Jekyll Island Land Use Bill Moves Forward

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.


  1. Footloose says:

    The amount of acreage that may be developed on Jekyll will be settled with the passage of this bill, but left untouched is what kind of stuff can be built on those acres. If more high-priced hotels are built there like the 5-star Jekyll Westin hotel now under construction and the soon-to-follow Jekyll Club Hotel Oceanfront, then we can kiss goodbye the affordability that was supposed to be the state park’s hallmark. Everyday Georgians can’t fully enjoy Jekyll as intended by the state park’s enabling legislation if they can’t afford to stay there. It’s that simple!

    • Jon Richards says:

      The state of Georgia owns the entire island. Houses, hotels, etc. are under long term leases from the state. I don’t know which 20 acres they will decide to develop, but the legislation prohibits further development on the southern end of the island.

      • Will Durant says:

        Sorry, that was behind a cobweb up there somewhere. Who or what entities are pushing for more development if even their representative thinks it has been developed enough at this point? And are there any restrictions as to the types of development, 20 acres done like Hong Kong could be a real problem.

  2. Footloose says:

    The entities pushing for more development are unknown at this time (though I have some educated guesses), but the pro-development lobbyists are major players in Georgia politics all the way up to the Governor’s mansion. As for restrictions on what can be built, there are far too few. The fact is the limit on building height and density on Jekyll Island is far less restrictive than anywhere else on the Georgia coast, including Tybee Island, Sea Island and St. Simon’s Island. For that reason, the bill that’s now working its way through the state legislature, which sets aside 20 acres for unrestricted use, could open the door for development that’s antithetical to what most people prize about Jekyll Island, namely the island’s beachfront, which, so far, is unmarred by high-rise, glitzy hotels. Bear in mind that the 5-story, 200-room beachfront Jekyll Westin hotel that’s being built next door to the island’s convention center is situated on less than 5 acres. Twenty acres spent a la Westin could be a game-changer for Jekyll’s beachscape. Not a comforting thought!

  3. cyberteach says:

    I agree that in spite of all the backslapping and happy talk at that Senate hearing on Friday, this bill (which I certainly hope passes) is not the last word on Jekyll. As the person posted above noted, the height guidelines for Jekyll are out of sync with most of the coast. And if you haven’t been to JI since the Westin starting shooting up on the beach, you will be shocked at how this building looms when you approach the roundabout. Limited to 20 acres and re-development in the existing footprints of older development, be on the lookout for cries to start about how the JIA must go further skyward if they are to remain self-sustaining. Don’t buy it. They no longer want to talk about the affordability mandate at all, shrugging and saying what’s affordable is hard to define. Not true. The mandate says the JIA is to manage JISP “at the lowest rates reasonable and possible for the benefit of the ordinary people of Georgia.” Seems to me if you take a look at the average household income in Georgia, you have a pretty good idea of what people can afford—and it’s not $200/night hotel rooms.

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