Thursday, August 2, 2007

Jekyll Island Threatened by Upscale Development

Jekyll Island Threatened by Upscale Development
by Cima Star

The moment I heard, a few weeks ago, of the plan afoot to allow luxury condos to be built on Jekyll Island, I flashbacked 20 years to Miami Beach.
For ten years, I watched the best coastline of South Florida systematically devoured and destroyed by developers of luxury, sky-studding condos and high-rise hotels.

A decade later, I walked out to that same section of beach (one of only a few left with public access) for my last visit. I stayed for five minute. Jammed with hundreds of people, the air smelled of suntan lotion; the water was oily. Boom boxes deafened. I said a sad goodbye to the beach I’d loved, and knew I would never return. Identical destruction had ruined the coastline from the southern tip of the island all the way to Fort Lauderdale. Miles of high rises blocked the view of the ocean from anyone but the insulated inhabitants of those buildings, who could gaze down upon the ocean from a distance. All had huge private swimming pools for folks who eschewed sand and salt and wind. On moving to Savannah in 1995, I rediscovered unfettered coastlines and miles of lush marshlands.

The first time I turned off the Causeway to enter the untrammeled world of Jekyll Island, I sensed an oasis of tranquility and history. Only an hour and a half from Savannah, this 5,000-acre barrier island combines a rare mixture of raw, lush, natural beauty, and in one small section, the sophisticated pampering of a world-class resort.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel has its roots in the 1880’s, when a handful of the world’s richest powerbrokers purchased the island and made it their winter home, forming the Jekyll Island Club.

Their goal for these wintertime sojourns, historians say, was to embrace the “simple life.” Nonetheless, they arrived complete with butlers, maids, valets, and a host of other servants.

Among the founding members were J. P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer and Marshall Field. The membership possessed one-sixth of the wealth of the entire world. They built the club, and then a colony of little “cottages,” many of them in the 7 to 8,000 square foot range, for their friends and families to purchase. The names still ring: Astor, Macy, Goodyear, Gould. The Club and the adjacent six-unit apartment building, the cottages and grounds, were lavished with the ultimate luxuries that money could buy.

Under the leadership of these men, history was often made. President McKinley drafted his 1899 reelection plans; the Federal Reserve Act was written and drafted on Jekyll in 1910 and in 1915, the first trans-continental telephone calls were placed from the island to President Woodrow Wilson in Washington D.C., to Alexander Graham Bell in New York, and to Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson in San Francisco, California.

But membership dwindled somewhat during the Great Depression. And then, during World War II, the Roosevelt administration asked all of the members to leave the island for the duration of the war because the president felt that so much wealth and power concentrated in so small a space was too vulnerable to attack.

For whatever reason, the membership never returned and the island was sold to the state in 1947. In 1950, Georgia passed a state law limiting development of Jekyll to only 35 percent of the land; the remaining 65 percent to remain a nature preserve for future generations to enjoy. It was not until 1985 that serious restoration of this magnificent palace was begun.

Today, the Jekyll Island Hotel has all the luxury and comfort intended by the original owners, and much they couldn’t have imagined.

Furnishings are elegant; service is splendid. Dining, from the casual Beach Pavilion to the breathtaking Grand Dining Room offers some of the finest food in the South. And just as in the late 1800’s, guests may have beverage service in any of the public areas, porches or courtyard. At the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, the guests remain pampered royalty.

Yet, nearby, throughout the 65 percent of the island designated as a preserve, nature reigns supreme. Sea Turtles abound here. From May through August, after nightfall, female Loggerheads swim ashore and make their way across the sand, digging their nests to lay 80 to 100 eggs. The Jekyll Island Turtle Project ensures that nature’s routine is undisturbed. Bird watchers nationwide come to Jekyll, one of 18 sites along the Colonial Coast Bird Watching Trail. In addition to abundant year round populations, Jekyll serves as a resting place in the spring and fall for migrating species on the Atlantic Flyway. Guided nature walks offer year round information on Georgia’s coastal environment and, from a distance, you can often see deer, wild turkey, raccoons, hawks, egrets, herons and wild alligators.

Seashell fanciers can wile away many hours perusing the fascinating array of shells on Jekyll’s beaches. Highly polished “olives” and whelks abound. For camping, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, shelling or bird watching, Jekyll Island offers it all in a near-primal setting.

Meanwhile, the deadly drumbeat of developers continues.

The 35 percent of the island that was originally designated as open to development was to be restricted to sites suitable for low to middle income people so that everyone, not just the rich, could enjoy this pastoral beauty. Now, one developer is reported to plan to replace the soccer fields and ecology center with approximately 90 townhouses and condos, starting at $750,000. It doesn’t take much imagination to know what the inhabitants of these places will demand as neighboring amenities. It certainly won’t be facilities aimed at the working class.

Those proponents of development point to the shabbiness of the handful of inexpensive hotels, motels and small eateries and shops on the island. However, plans are already in place to refurbish and upgrade these establishments over the next decade. Approximately $200 million has been designated for this plan. Most local residents and the campers and hikers and day visitors so fond of an unspoiled Jekyll say this is sufficient.

“Jekyll Island doesn’t need any more upscale glitz than it has in the Jekyll Island Hotel,” says a frequent hiking and biking visitor.

“Folks who want more can go to the mob scene on St. Simon’s Island.”
--photos by J. Star

Questions? Comments?

08/02 - Opinion: READERS WRITE: Responses to "Let Jekyll stay incentive-free, affordable," @issue, July 27

By Mike Powers, Brenda K. Layne, Von Diaz, Deirdra Schmandt Alexander
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/02/07
Jekyll Island: Responses to "Let Jekyll stay incentive-free, affordable," @issue, July 27

All deserve to enjoy jewel

It is a pleasant surprise to hear Edward Boshears speak openly about the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing orchestrated by the rest of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority. How can the JIA justify a $10 million tax break for the developer while they claim the authority lacks funds to maintain or improve existing features on the island?

Georgia's citizens need to wake up and realize plans are under way to destroy the limited remaining natural beauty of Jekyll Island in order to build another playground for the select few wealthiest of citizens. Every Georgia citizen needs to demand that the JIA live up to its charter and make plans for Jekyll Island that are affordable for the majority of our citizens.

The island belongs to all of us, not just the select few developers and politicians greedily drooling over each parcel of land. I am all for upgrading and maintaining existing properties to attract visitors. Just make sure the affordability index covers those families earning $30,000 to $50,000, not just the $100,000 and up families.


Preserve its beauty

Thank heavens for Jekyll Island State Park Authority Board member Edward Boshears, who expresses the feeling of the vast majority of Georgians. Modern hotels are no substitute for nature's beauty. The coastline already has a plethora of costly hotels. Let's not destroy one of the last unspoiled islands in our state.

BRENDA K. LAYNE, Gainesville

08/01 - Not such a 'sweet' deal

Brunswick News
Date August 01, 2007
Section(s) Letters

I am writing in response to the advertisement written by Jekyll Island Authority Chair Ben Porter, which was published first as an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

What Ben Porter does not say in his opinion piece is that those few island residents who resist any and all efforts to improve guest accommodations and increase visitation represent the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a grassroots organization of 5,000 members throughout North America dedicated to soliciting and communicating the will of the people on this issue.

What Porter does not say is that he has received over 100 pages of comments from Jekyll Island visitors stating that Jekyll Island must be kept affordable to people of average means.

What Porter does not say is that Trammel Crow's properties will more than double current room rates on those sites.

Sweetheart deals do not benefit the people of Georgia, nor do they justify our trust, nor do they befit the appointed stewards of Georgia's economic and natural resources.

Dory Ingram


It's about time some improvements are made

After 30 years of neglect, it sounds like something is finally being done about Jekyll Island.

My family won't return until we see some improvements.

I consider myself a person of modest income, but even I realize that it will take some upscale development to pay for all the infrastructure needs on the island.

I only hope the media and malcontents on the Jekyll Island Authority will not run off investors in the process.

Mindy Anderson


It's Jekyll residents who are getting the deal

As a member of the committee that debated legislation to extend the state lease to the Jekyll Island Authority, I am well aware of the sweetheart deals on Jekyll Island.

It is the 600-plus residents who have the sweetheart deal. Imagine having a home valued at $500,000 or more that you enjoy exclusively through 2049, yet you only pay the authority $300 per year for real estate.

Maybe our committee can go back next year and evaluate all of the current residential leases and base them on market rate or otherwise rent them to the general public.

Even better, if the residents want price controls on Jekyll, perhaps they should agree to sell their homes for less than market value.

That way, beach-front living would be even more affordable to the average Georgian.

These are the same residents that came to committee meetings and supported the extension of the lease and asked for more money on improvements to the island, but don't want to allow the developments that will fund the improvements.

And, finally, to hear board member Ed Boshears complain about the lease agreement after voting "yes" reminds me of John Kerry's political epitaph: "I voted for it before I voted against it."

I am pleased to see that Gov. Sonny Perdue chose a leader in Chairman Ben Porter to return the island to its heyday.

Rep. Steven Davis, R-McDonough

Member of State Institutions and Properties Committee