Jekyll's Long Term "Build-Out": Fact and Fiction

At the February 9, 2009 JIA Board meeting, the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG) presented the final part of its “Analysis of the Impacts of Long-Term Development on Jekyll Island.” Titled “A Comparison of Jekyll Island to Comparable Southeastern U.S. Coastal Destinations,” the report’s purpose is to provide insights into the potential impact of future development by comparing Jekyll Island to other comparable locations. (The entire report is now available in one document. See section V, pages 37-46, "A Comparative Analysis of Comparable Coastal Resorts"  to read the comparative analysis with additional information added by BAG (p. 40) after members of the public questioned the accuracy of the analysis. Click here for the BAG report.)

The comparable destinations selected by BAG are: St. George Island, FL, Captiva/Sanibel Island, FL; Santa Rosa Island/Pensacola, FL; St. Simon’s Island, GA; Tybee Island, GA; Kiawah Island, SC; Fripp Island, SC; Pawley’s Island, SC; and Ocean Isle Beach, NC.

BAG forecasted that the increase in Jekyll’s lodging rooms, condos, time-shares and year-round residences from its current figure of 1,624 to the figure of 4,103 by the year 2023 would still make Jekyll “significantly less developed than other comparable coastal destinations” with respect to resident and seasonal population, housing density and traffic volumes.   Unfortunately, BAG’s comparisons lack validity, as they are based on a grossly inaccurate figure for Jekyll Island’s acreage.

Instead of using the JIA’s own recorded figure of 4,152 acres for Jekyll’s size, BAG used the figure of 9,232 acres, which it took from a U.S. Census Bureau Report that includes marshland on Jekyll’s west side and the marshland east of the 6-mile long Jekyll Causeway all the way to the Causeway’s intersection with Route 17. By more than doubling Jekyll’s actual size, the BAG calculations were able to show that the population and the number of housing and lodging units per acre for the “built-out” Jekyll would be much smaller than would, in fact, be the case.

For example, BAG’s figures for the number of housing and lodging units per acre place Jekyll in the middle rank among the comparable destinations, whereas when the real size of Jekyll is used, the island would have a higher density rate than any of the so-called comparable destinations. 

BAG’s findings become even less meaningful when considering the fact that, unlike the  coastal resorts used for the sake of comparison, 65 percent of Jekyll Island must, by law, remain in its natural state, meaning that the developable part of the island consist of just 1,455 acres.  When population and the number of housing and lodging units per acre are calculated on the basis of the developable part of Jekyll Island, BAG’s claim that the built-out Jekyll would be “significantly less developed than other comparable coastal destinations” turns out to be dead wrong.

BAG’s rationale for using the U.S. Census Bureau data is that it wanted to get its acreage figures for the selected coastal resorts from one source for the sake of “consistent comparison.” However, as the above analysis shows, accuracy has been sacrificed for the sake of consistency.

The question now becomes, how the JIA will react to the fact that the conclusions of the BAG report are fundamentally flawed.

Interestingly, the stories published by the two newspapers that covered the JIA board meeting at which BAG presented its report differ substantially. The Georgia Times Union reported that members of the public who attended meeting questioned the validity of the BAG study because of the acreage error. The Brunswick News failed to mention the acreage error and chose to develop the theme that the BAG study shows that Jekyll’s long-term build-out will have minimal impact and no effect on the island’s character.