Monday, November 19, 2007

11/17 - JEKYLL ISLAND: Suit filed to stop 'town center'

ajc.com > Metro
By Dan Chapman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/17/07

Jekyll Island's redevelopment plans were jeopardized Friday when a developer who wasn't chosen to build the state park's "town center" sued to stop the $352 million project.

Wade Shealy Jr. filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court, claiming the Jekyll Island Authority unfairly awarded the project to Linger Longer LLC. He seeks an injunction to keep the Greensboro, Ga.-based developer from proceeding with plans for more than 1,100 hotel, condo and time-share units fronting the Atlantic Ocean.

"The whole process was flawed; a lot of the procedures were violated," Shealy said. "Our goal is to get a judge to stop [Linger Longer] from going forward with any contracts signed and to have the bid redone."

Authority chairman Ben Porter has maintained that the selection process was fair and that Linger Longer rightly prevailed during the bidding.

Linger Longer, which was not sued, defended the project Friday.

"We believe that our plan for Jekyll —- which will impact only 63 acres or under 2 percent of the island's developable land —- is the right one to help return the island to a firm financial footing and preserve the wonderful features that already exist on the island," said Jim Langford, project executive of Linger Longer Communities. "The vast majority of the new beach village will be on land that is already disturbed. ... There is nothing new in the lawsuit, and we believe it is without merit."

The lawsuit is the latest blow against the Jekyll Island Authority's attempts to revitalize the state park. Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) asked fellow legislators and the state's Attorney General last week to investigate financial deals between the authority and two developers.

Other challenges —- legal, environmental and political —- are expected by citizens' groups, nonprofits and legislators once the General Assembly convenes in January. Chapman has said all revitalization plans should be shelved until questions over financing, public access to the state park and affordability of planned hotel rooms and condos have been resolved.

The island's governing body selected Linger Longer, developers of the upscale Reynolds Plantation east of Atlanta, in September after considering bids by Shealy's group and the Trammell Crow Co. "It just seems to me, procedurally, that things are amiss," David Egan, co-founder of the nonprofit Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said Friday. "We have [selection] procedures in place, and if they're not followed, you get people filing lawsuits."

Jekyll, a 7.5-mile long barrier island with modest accommodations, a convention center, historic district and 650 homes, is poised for roughly $750 million in hotels, condos, shops, parks and restaurants. Ultimately, more than $2 billion in new construction is projected island-wide.

Trammell Crow is one of the nation's largest developers, began tearing down the Buccaneer Beach Resort this week to replace it with an estimated $100 million hotel and condo project.

Linger Longer's plans are more comprehensive and revolve around a tract that greets visitors upon crossing the island causeway. In its request for proposals, the island's governing board stipulated eight times that the "town center" would encompass 45 acres. Shealy's Jekyll Island Revitalization Group and Trammell Crow adhered to the 45-acre parameter. Linger Longer, however, used 64 acres in its plan. By using fewer acres, Shealy said, the degree of green space and density —- two major selection criteria —- was unfairly skewed.

Shealy contends that the authority violated state procurement law while engaging in "an arbitrary and capricious act." He claims that the authority intended all along to pick Linger Longer and that the surprise decision to accept its 64-acre proposal —- when other bidders were under the impression that only 45 acres were in play —- underscores the favoritism.

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