Development limited to existing footprint

It recently has been asserted that the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) wants to change the definition of marshland. This simply is not true. The reality is the JIA has no “authority” when it comes to the question, “What is marshland?” That power lies with the state’s lawmakers. As far as the JIA is concerned, to build in the ecologically vital marshland is completely out of the question.

The underlying issue is really about the limitations of development on Jekyll Island. As sure as high tide follows low, this discussion unfailingly provokes a public outcry whose impassioned plea is clear: Do not let Jekyll Island become the next (fill-in-the-blank overdeveloped beach destination).

We wholeheartedly agree. The JIA has been busy with revitalization intended to protect the island’s unique character. All the new commercial development you hear about is occurring within existing footprints and is not adding to the amount of “developed” land. On Jekyll Island, “developed” basically means any land not in its original, natural state, and includes bike paths, historic sites, picnic areas and golf courses. In all, this “developed” land must be kept to no more than just 35 percent of the island’s total land area above “mean high tide,” as defined in the 1971 law establishing the 35-percent limitation on development.

Significant acreage of marshland in and around Jekyll Island is above “mean high tide” and has always been counted as part of the island’s total land area. But it is not to be built on. In the current Jekyll Island master plan, this marshland is delineated as environmentally sensitive. It is protected under the Jekyll Island conservation plan and also regulated under Georgia’s Coastal Marshland Protection Act. No one is considering anything other than protecting this invaluable natural resource. Period.

Under the guidance of the current Jekyll Island master plan, a long-downward trend in visitation has been reversed through careful stewardship. Accomplishments include creation of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center; enactment of a lighting ordinance to protect sea turtle nesting habitat; formation of a comprehensive conservation plan; establishment of design guidelines limiting building height; development of a “certified-green” convention center; re-creation of the beachfront park, and the addition and rehabilitation of more than 10 miles of bike trails. As new hotels open, each must receive certification for energy conservation and sustainability. And each will be located within existing developed footprints.

The JIA is demonstrating its commitment to a thoughtful vision for the future through a new master plan that carries forward the firm line on limited development.

I encourage you to visit and see if you agree we are on the right track. And as you marvel at the periwinkle snails clinging to the spartina marsh grass, gaze across the vast Marshes of Glynn to the setting sun and know that Jekyll Island, under the stewardship of the Jekyll Island Authority, will remain a special place — the nearest faraway place — for you, your children and their children.

Eric Garvey is chief communications officer for the Jekyll Island Authority.

About the Author