Monday, February 25, 2008

02/07 - Slugline Legislation could hurt Jekyll

Date: February 07, 2008
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

Legislation proposed by state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, would effectively derail the $344 million revitalization planned for Georgia's only oceanfront state park, the chair of the Jekyll Island Authority warned Wednesday.

"The legislation suggested by Sen. Chapman would effectively stop the revitalization of Jekyll Island, which is contrary to the direction given to the Jekyll Island Authority by the governor and General Assembly over the past five years and specifically conflicts with (House Bill) 214 signed into law last year," Ben Porter said in a prepared statement to the media.

That House bill extended the life of the Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the state-owned island, and created a Jekyll Island Oversight Committee of state legislators to monitor it.

Porter has some heavyweights on his side to block the legislation Chapman wants. Both Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the Senate, and the oversight committee, which includes Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, are in favor of the renewal plan.

Among the plan's projects are new oceanfront hotels, a new commercial center and a new convention center.

Chapman did not return telephone calls made Wednesday to his cell phone and to his Senate office in Atlanta.

The legislation drafted by Chapman, an opponent of the proposed revitalization, would:

* Prevent additional full-time residences from being built on the state-owned island.

* Create restrictions that would prevent construction of the proposed Beach Village near the waterfront.

* More strictly define some legal terminology used in defining the redevelopment project, including "average income." It would be defined as the state-wide average wages for workers of all industries.

The measure attempts to define "an average Georgian," who Chapman and other foes of the project claim would be priced out of access to the state park.

Linger Longer Communities, spearheading the project in partnership with the Jekyll Island Authority, rejects that contention.

Chapman's proposals would seek to handcuff hotel operators in setting room rates through how it defines certain terms.

For example, "lowest rates reasonable and possible" would mean the average annual daily rate charged by Jekyll Island hotels could not exceed the annual average daily rate charged for rooms of the same occupancy at other specified state parks, including Unicoi in Helen. Rates for overnight double occupancy at the Lodge in Unicoi, which is operated by the state, range from $85 to $100.

Chapman did not include in the measure parks like Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, where overnight rates range from $149 to $449.

The legislation is a second attempt by Chapman to slow or stall changes on Jekyll Island.

He tried unsuccessfully during the 2007 Legislature to block additional full-time residences on the island.

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