Monday, February 25, 2008

02/05 - A more constructive approach to the Jekyll Island issue > Opinion
Published on: 02/05/08

The heated controversy over the master plan for Jekyll Island redevelopment was so unnecessary, so predictable and so avoidable that we must ask ourselves, "What were they thinking?"

It is a fact of life that, when redevelopment is considered in an environmentally sensitive area, there will always be differences of opinion, with the developers, architects and engineers on one side and the environmentalists and conservationists on the other. They will differ in mind-set, in goals and in perception of what is to be accomplished by the redevelopment process.

This is often a problem in private property zoning matters but is a far greater problem when it involves public property — Jekyll Island, for instance.

When public property is involved, the end product, the final plan, is going to have to be seen by both sides as a satisfactory amalgamation of acceptable compromises, resulting in not exactly what each wanted but in a plan each side can accept and support.

From the beginning, this simple concept has gone right over the heads of members of the Jekyll Island Authority, the managing body for the island, as they have missed opportunity after opportunity to form a cooperative and helpful alliance with the public, which owns and uses the property.

With regard to the master plan for redevelopment, JIA has willfully and systematically excluded the public from any participation in the planning process. They have neither sought, nor allowed, any input from the public, and they have ignored pleas from the public for information and for opportunities to submit ideas for consideration for Jekyll's future. They have sought council only with the real estate developers. The public has reacted to being ignored and dismissed. Thus, JIA has created this ugly squabble.

A logical way to begin such an endeavor would be with widely distributed questionnaires, town hall meetings, hearings, requests for letters of suggested plan components, and the appointment of a citizen committee to collect and compile the wishes of the public into a coherent contribution to the master plan. Then this should go to the developers, architects and engineers in the form of a guideline as to what should be accomplished.

Without such a guideline, the developers will naturally proceed in their own mind-set and design a project to maximize their bottom line, something unacceptable to the public. With such guidelines, project development could proceed without the rancor, without the useless waste of time and money and without all the destructive political infighting.

Having been active participants, the public, when a plan is finally rolled out, could not quarrel about it, the developers would be seen in a positive light, the architects would have saved money by avoiding unrealistic designs, and the JIA would have done its job.

To steer the JIA toward this type of approach would take a directive from the governor and from our Legislature.

Those who want to see a more reasonable approach taken by the JIA should contact Gov. Sonny Perdue and their state legislators and request a change of direction.

Maybe, just maybe, it is not too late. Jekyll Island is worth the effort.

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