How Much is Too Much?

Center for A Sustainable Coast Newsletter Article Spring - Summer 2008
"Suspicions also surround a $10 million lease-fee waiver for a beachfront hotel that was approved by JIA with little discussion. Ironically, prior to that there had been talk by the JIA of charging a premium to the developer because of the site's choice, high-profit location."

Despite extensive public objections submitted to the Jekyll Island Authority and numerous opinion pieces published throughout the state, a major development project, now being revised, is still slated to be built on Jekyll Island - a popular state park and barrier island in Glynn County, Georgia.

The Center and many of our colleagues take issue with a number of elements in the $352 million, 63-acre proposed redevelopment plan of the Jekyll Island Authority and its developer, Linger Longer Communities. It must be noted that within this plan are numerous private condominiums and time-share dwellings that have never been justified as part of any redevelopment analysis.

At a recent meeting of the Jekyll Island Authority, Center executive director David Kyler told JIA board members that "to proceed with 'massaging' the 'town center' plan prior to completing a capacity study or a refining and adopting the long-awaited conservation plan - two important guiding documents for island planning - is logically inverted." JIA Board chairman, Ben Porter responded by simply saying that he disagreed.

David Egan, co-founder and co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island (IPJI), which represents the interests of visitors to the state park, said he agrees that lodging needs to be improved on Jekyll Island, that more quality family dining options should be available and that the convention center is substandard.

But he opposes any redevelopment that includes high-end and high-cost accommodations or amenities that jeopardize the island's ecosystem. This opinion is well-founded, based on an extensive survey of some 10,000 Jekyll visitors done by IPJI. "Hotel redevelopment over the next five years, exclusive of the Linger Longer project," Egan notes, "stands to double the number of Jekyll's hotel rooms and condominiums. The Authority needs to assess the impact that hotel reconstruction will have on visitation and JIA revenues before pushing ahead with what Linger Longer is proposing. Necessary improvements are fine for Jekyll; development for development's sake is not."

With good reason, we back Egan in doubting some of the numbers used by the Jekyll Island Authority to justify the need for the proposed development.

Egan says they just don't make sense, citing an instance of automotive traffic entering the island falling by 44 percent between 1996 and 1997 while hotel occupancy declined by only 2 percent.

Dr. Kenneth Cordell, an expert on outdoor recreation issues with the U.S. Forest Service, agrees with Egan's critique. "In my research over the years, I have never seen data changes that drastic," he says, "and no one seems to be able to offer a satisfactory explanation." Cordell's latest study showed traffic onto the island has remained relatively stable over the years.

Based in part on meetings with Egan and his wife Mindy (the other IPJI co-founder and co-director), in addition to their own independent analysis, the Center's staff is certain that the JIA is long overdue in conducting a credible, objective study. As Center staff has stated in several columns published in Georgia newspapers, past JIA plans did not recommend this newly proposed scale of development, nor has any other analysis justified it.

Equally troubling, as mentioned, is JIA's failure to complete and adopt either a conservation plan (in the works for more than 2 years) or a capacity study (that we called for nearly a year ago) prior to planning any further development. There has been no explanation offered by the JIA in response to our critique. Although there has been some effort by JIA towards preparing a capacity study, there are serious questions about the consultant selected.

In a written assessment of a consulting agreement between JIA and the Bleakly Advisory Group, done in response to a request by Georgia State Senator, Jeff Chapman, Ken Cordell concurred with the Center's observations. Cordell found that there should be more background formation made available upon which planning by JIA and its 'development partner' must then be based.

He also confirmed our assertion that a transparent planning process with ample opportunities for substantive public participation is needed. Further, Dr. Cordell questioned the composition of the consulting team chosen by JIA to conduct the capacity study due to its lack of both expertise and objectivity.

Says David Kyler, "We will continue urging the JIA to see the wisdom of valuing Jekyll Island as an attractive family destination and not as a private-sector real-estate venture. As it stands, the size and environmental disruptions of the town center proposal are directly at odds with the goals of a state park. We are especially concerned about JIA promoting intensive development that would ruin the relaxed atmosphere and environmental quality of the island."

Kyler is now waiting for a reply to his letter to C. Jones Hooks, the new executive director of the JIA, outlining some of the Center's concerns. The letter encourages Hooks to implement a more open, accountable, and balanced process for making decisions about the future of Jekyll Island State Park.
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