Friday, January 11, 2008

01/07 - Jekyll project may need environmental permit > Business
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/07/08

(Image left)Artist renderings of Linger Longer community proposal.

Contrary to earlier assertions, the company planning a $352 million project on Jekyll Island may need an environmental permit to build along the state park's shoreline, a potentially time-consuming delay.

Critics of the hotel-condo-retail plan greeted the news by demanding Monday that the Linger Longer project be scuttled and that the island's reconstruction contract be re-bid. And they vowed to tie up the permitting process in administrative, legal and legislative knots for the next two years.

"This whole thing wasn't handled properly," said Ed Boshears, a Jekyll Island Authority board member who wants Linger Longer's plans "radically" changed. "The problem goes back to the obsession with building new development on Jekyll and not looking at Jekyll as a state park. We should start over."

Ben Porter, chairman of the state park's governing authority, downplayed the criticism and said that the project continues apace without need to re-open the bidding. And a permit, Porter noted, could allow Linger Longer to build along the beach.

"I still don't expect it to have a great effect on Linger Longer's plan," he said. "People opposed to redevelopment of Jekyll can and will do anything to stop it. I fully expect to have a legal contest whatever we do."

Last September, the Greensboro, Ga.-based upscale developer was chosen to revitalize a portion of the 7.5-mile long barrier island. It proposes 1,100 hotel, condo and time-share units wrapped around a "town center" and fronting "a continuous beach-front promenade following the dune line," according to promotional material. The company also plans parks, walkways and bike trails lacing through the 64-acre project.

In a Dec. 27 interview, project executive Jim Langford said the development wouldn't trigger the Shore Protection Act and, therefore, didn't need a permit.

But when asked Monday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Langford corrected himself and said Linger Longer will seek a permit if necessary.

The state law protects sand dunes, beaches, sand bars and shoals by limiting construction near the dunes. Exceptions — permits — may be issued if, for example, a builder maintains one-third of the development in a natural state. The state Department of Natural Resources will determine if a permit is necessary.

Langford awaits a surveyor's drawing before definitively saying what portions of the "town center" would violate the shore act. He admitted, though, that part of the to-be-constructed hotels, cottages, convention center and boardwalk could fall within the act's jurisdiction.

"We've never known where the line was and we still don't," Langford said. "But, remember, the jurisdictional line does not mean we can't build there. We can get a permit to do that if we meet certain requirements. This just adds another layer of complexity."

When it requested bids the Jekyll Island Authority didn't delineate the area that could be built on, an oversight that dismayed Boshears and other critics. The Authority will now survey the area.

"It probably should've been done," Porter said. "It's just one of those things that nobody got done."

Porter and Langford don't expect any significant delay if a permit is needed. David Egan, co-director of the nonprofit Initiative to Protect Jekyll, does.

"Even if they alter the plan for the better — which I doubt – they'll still likely need to go through the permitting process," said Egan. "That will the next battlefield."

State law requires 30 days public notice once a permit is requested. The Shore Protection Committee, a state-appointed body, then holds a hearing. An appeal to an administrative law judge could ensue; another hearing could follow in three months.

Egan and others would then likely make an appeal to a superior court judge with further legal entreaties to appelate and Supreme Court justices if needed. Portions of Linger Longer's project could be delayed two years.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, a Republican whose district includes Jekyll, has criticized the island's governing board for alleged "sweetheart" deals with another developer as well as for ignoring the state park's legislative mandate to remain affordable for "all Georgians." He blamed the Authority for the latest problem.

"Because of the board's consistent inconsistencies, I quite frankly think that the whole process should be done over," Chapman said.

Responded Porter: "Sen. Chapman is very good at criticizing; Sen. Chapman is not very good at solving problems. This is a complicated process. The end result will be a great product for the state of Georgia."

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