Writer: Lauren McDonald
Published December 15, 2021
The Brunswick News
The board of the Jekyll Island Authority voted Tuesday to approve the 2021 update to the island’s master plan despite continued criticisms from Jekyll residents and conservation groups that the plan fails to adequately address potential overdevelopment on the island.
The board received no objection from the JIA legislative oversight committee to a previously sent draft version of the plan.
The board voted unanimously to approve the five-year plan, which updates the 2014 version.
The University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government created the plan using feedback provided through stakeholders, including residents, visitors, authority staff and others.
“A primary focus of this master plan update is the importance of balancing capacity on the island,” said Leigh Elkins, senior public service associate at the institute. “The 2014 plan addressed the revitalization and redevelopment of Jekyll, which has been tremendously successful, and now that success has led to the need to address the capacity issues on the island.”
Creation of the plan also relied on other plans and studies created for the authority, Elkins said. The plan calls for no new development, she said.
Corrections made to the 2014 plan also led to a reduction in the overall land classified as developed by about 15 acres.
Jones Hooks, executive director of JIA, said a significant accomplishment in the new plan is the reclassification of 8.45 acres of coastal prairie land to undeveloped.
“That 8.54 acres is so, so prevalent and such a brand of Jekyll Island when you are driving on this island and you can see the ocean,” he said.
Three people spoke out against the master plan update during a public comment portion of the meeting.
Mindy Egan, a Jekyll resident and co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, called for several changes, including the creation of criteria that will ensure the balance between natural and human activity on Jekyll is maintained.
“The density and extent of development that has taken place on Jekyll in the past decade has caused the public to believe that there are no limits on redevelopment, creating a feeling of uncertainty about Jekyll’s future,” she said.
David Kyler with the Center for a Sustainable Coast said he’s troubled by what he sees as an absence of accountable controls that mitigate threats to the island’s natural resources.
“Attempts to protect environmental quality by limiting the portion of land eligible for development, which has been mentioned here this morning, have been defeated by the changing use of those developed areas leading to escalating density, including higher and larger buildings that blatantly conflict with the tranquility for which Jekyll was renowned,” he said.
Susan Inman, coastal advocate for the nonprofit One Hundred Miles, said she appreciates the additional acres of undeveloped land committed in the master plan update. But she said she would like there to be more certainty regarding how those lands would be permanently protected as undeveloped.
“We, like many of our members, visitors and residents to the island, remain concerned about the increased density and the need for priority actions to maintain the quality of experience here and the natural character,” Inman said.
She said more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition that will remain active until the end of the 2022 state legislative session, which begins in January, that asks state legislators to support a temporary pause on Jekyll development.
“The people’s island is feeling the growing pains, and it deserves a better plan to keep the balance before it’s too late,” Inman said.
In other business, the JIA board voted to approve:
• A Public Safety Officials and First Responders Supplemental Grant request for the acceptance of $10,765, which will be used to provide $1,000 pay supplements to 10 full-time JIA Fire/EMS/public safety employees.
• The assignment of the hotel ground lease for the Holiday Inn Resort from Georgia Coast Holdings, LLC to Jekyll Island Beachfront Hotel, LLC, an affiliate of New Castle Hotels & Resorts, LLC, who will also operate and manage the hotel property.
• A memorandum of understanding and the assignment of the restaurant ground lease for the Beach House Restaurant from Georgia Coast Holdings I, LLC to Jekyll Restaurant Owner, LLC. Northpointe Hospitality Management, LLC will continue to manage the restaurant.
• A memorandum of understanding and the assignment of the hotel ground lease for the Beachview Club Hotel from Georgia Coast Holdings II, LLC to Jekyll Hotel Owner, LLC. Northpointe Hospitality Management, LLC will continue to manage the hotel, which will be franchised as a part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton.
• A consideration of award of RFP #367 for vendor services for historic carriage tours to Golden Isles Carriage and Trail at Three Oaks Farm, LLC, as well as an updated lease agreement outlining new operations requirements by the awarded vendor.
• An amendment to the authority’s loss prevention policy to update standards of practice in how the assets of the organization will be protected from loss and/or damage due to misuse and abuse.