Thursday, September 20, 2007

09/14 - Proposed plans for Jekyll are now a mouse click away

The Florida Times-Union
September 14, 2007
Times-Union correspondent

Jekyll Island patrons can get a sneak preview of three so-called town square center developments being proposed. But the peek will not tell them if hotels will remain affordable and seascape views will remain unencumbered.

Two weeks before a selection committee recommends their top pick for a developer, summaries of the three competing development proposals for a town square center were posted on the Jekyll Island Authority's Web site.

The Jekyll Island Authority had been criticized for keeping all details of the proposals confidential until Sept. 24, the day the full panel awards the project. Citizens have suspected the proposed hotels and amenities are geared more towards serving wealthy vacationers rather than average-income Georgians, as state statute requires for the park.

"We've heard the public's concerns over the selection process," Jekyll Island Authority Marketing Director Eric Garvey said of the decision to make the summaries public. "We're happy the public will see that these three finalists are all excellent ... they really have captured what the public is asking for from Jekyll."

The summaries of the finalists - Linger Longer Communities, Trammell Crow Co. and the Jekyll Island Revitalization Group - all promise to address hot-button development issues - protecting natural resources, maintaining the island's beauty and laid-back character and keeping the island affordable to average Georgians. But without more specifics, concerned citizens are still having trouble putting their fears to rest.

"At least we're getting some hint of what's coming," said David Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, "but that's not necessarily making people feel any better about the proposals themselves."

One thing Egan saw in the summaries that he didn't like was a lot of condominiums.

"When we first heard about this from the authority, there was talk of placing condos as a second floor above shops, but now we're looking at hundreds of rentals and private properties," he said. "This is sounding more like a residential community than what they had described."

A survey of 5,000 Jekyll visitors shows that, while a majority of people support building a town square center, less than 10 percent want condominiums as part of the project and less than 1 percent favor more than 100 units, Egan said.

Jean Poleszak, a 25-year Jekyll Island resident, doesn't know if proposed hotels and condos at the town square center will block the beach view she now enjoys when she rides her bicycle between the convention center and Blackbeard's Restaurant to the north. The area is included in the 45-acre parcel proposed for the town square center, and though the summaries state the types of buildings that will be placed there and how many, they don't say where they will be.

"It's not explicit enough to make a decision," Poleszak said. "I'm unhappy about the idea of putting buildings there because views like this are what makes the island so unique."

David Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, says even with promises that hotels will be affordable to average people, it's unlikely that market forces alone will guarantee it.

"If you're going to rely on what the free market is willing to pay for this property, it would tend to make the cost go up beyond the means of average Georgians," he said. This is because coastal property commands premium prices in a free market, he said.

Kyler says a Jekyll Island managed as a private land development without any price restrictions will fail in its mission as a state park.

"Should the state even create a premiere resort destination in a state park?" he said. "This seems to me to be a misfit. The private market can do that itself. What would be the purpose of doing that in the public sector?"

Garvey said the three proposals now under consideration will not be the final word on the town square center design. Rather, they are being used to evaluate each developer's experience, financial plans, and creative ideas for Jekyll. After a developer is selected, the town square center design will begin anew and will be open to public input and modifications.

"We understand we need to hear from the public to help develop the best plan," Garvey said. TO VIEW THE TOWN SQUARE PROPOSALS Links to each of the three proposal summaries can be found at:

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