This afternoon, the Senate Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 296, introduced by Sen. Ross Tolleson of Perry. The bill would once and for all settle the question over how much land on Jekyll Island could be developed. Its matching bill is House Bill 715, introduced by Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming.
Passage of the legislation would resolve one of the major questions regarding development of the island. Back in 1971, the legislature decreed that no more than 35% of the island’s acreage could be developed, while the remaining 65% must remain in its natural state. The acreage calculation was based on the amount of land exposed at mean high tide, but no one has been able to agree on exactly what the size is. Those wishing to preserve natural areas argued that marshland shouldn’t be included. The Jekyll Island Authority thought otherwise, and last year, Attorney General Sam Olens was asked to play the role of Solomon. He ended up deciding that marshland should in included.
The new legislation does away with the 65/35% rule, and specifies exactly how many acres can be developed. The Augusta Chronicle has more details.
The compromise proposed to do away with the so-called “65-35 rule” would limit total development on Jekyll Island to 1,675 acres. Most of that land has already been used, and future development would be limited to just 78 acres. Twelve of those acres have already been designated for expansion of the park’s campground. And any new commercial construction would be further restricted to just 20 acres.
Most of the players in the debate, including the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, the Georgia Conservancy and the Jekyll Island Authority appear to go along with the compromise. Rep. Jeff Chapman of Brunswick, whose district includes the island, told us that while he thinks Jekyll was already overdeveloped per the 1971 law, he could go along with the compromise.
The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.
If either bill gets Governor Deal’s signature, there will still be another issue on the table. The 1950 law establishing the Jekyll Island Authority requires it to “to make its facilities available to people of average income.” The definition of what that means, and whether an upscale hotel would fit within that definition remains to be resolved.