Saturday, September 8, 2007

09/07 - Chapman tells lawmakers to keep close tabs on Jekyll

Date September 07, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, says he is still unsure whether plans being made by the Jekyll Island Authority are in accordance with state law.

The law clearly states that the island should be affordable to a majority of Georgians, Chapman said Thursday.

He questions whether plans outlined by the authority, including a $90 million beachfront hotel-condo development proposed by Trammell Crow, during a meeting with the legislative oversight committee in August are in keeping with state law.

"That's the unique thing about the state park," Chapman said. "It has been described as being for plain people of Georgia. It should be available at the lowest rates."

Chapman says that and more in a letter to the legislative oversight committee, co-chaired by Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. He urges the oversight committee in the letter to keep close tabs on the Jekyll Island Development Authority's plans.

"I cannot find any evidence that (the authority) has taken into consideration what I believe is the original intent ... of state law regarding affordability," he said. "Right out the gate, they're asking for a three-star hotel."

Chapman, who represents the island in the Senate, echoes the sentiments of residents on Jekyll. They, too, have questioned whether the proposed new look of the island will be within the financial reach of average Georgians.

"I want the affordability aspect of this state park to be reflected in their actions, and I don't want it after the fact," Chapman said. "I want it addressed up front, not after everything has been developed and accommodations built. Let's get it under control during the negotiations process."

Chapman said he doesn't know how to define affordability on Jekyll Island, where houses on leased land have been priced to sell at over $1 million. But he knows where to go to get the information: the University of Georgia.

"It is very capable of helping us define what is the average income in Georgia," he said.

It has been estimated that it will cost $170 per night per room at new beachfront hotels proposed on Jekyll.

"I can tell you it's not affordable," he said. "We can do better than that."

Chapman said he knows of hotels that are asking $90 to $120 a day per stay.

"And that's with companies that have very comfortable, modern facilities and that have to purchase the land," he said.

Land on Jekyll is leased, not bought. That gives developers an advantage, he said.

"Essentially, they're in a position to negotiate attractive rates," Chapman said.

Sen. Williams said Aug. 28 that the authority has said that there will be lower priced hotels on the island.

"(From) our conversations with some of the (authority) board members, they intend to have some affordable motels on the island," Williams said. "These affordable hotels may not be on the beach, but they will be there."

To Chapman, that might be fine, but only if over half of the new developments can accommodate average Georgians at an affordable cost.

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