Friday, February 29, 2008

02/28 - Bills meant to block Jekyll redevelopment are killed > Metro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/28/08

A Senate committee on Thursday killed three bills intended to block a redevelopment plan for Jekyll Island.

Members of the Jekyll Island Authority, in charge of reconstructing the state park, accused state Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) of lying to make his case for the legislation.

The trio of bills would have prohibited residences from being built in state parks across Georgia, and would have restricted new construction on Jekyll Island to sites where development has already occurred.

The hour-long hearing was held in one of the smallest conference rooms in the Capitol, forcing spectators into the hall. It came only days after Chapman accused the authority of fudging visitor numbers and under-reporting its revenue by $11.3 million over the past 10 years.

"That is an absolute untruth, and the senator knew it when he said so," said Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority.

Chapman didn't back off. The authority's claims, he told his colleagues, "are not exactly accurate, to put it in nice terms, regarding revenue, regarding visitation."

Chapman and residents of the island say the redevelopment, approved by the Legislature last spring, has ballooned — without sufficient public input — from 24 acres to a 64-acre project that would add 1,100 hotel, condo, cottage and time-share units to the state park.

Specifically, the plan would do away much of the parking immediately adjacent to the island's most popular beach.

Chapman repeatedly pointed to the origins of Jekyll Island's acquisition as a state park intended for the enjoyment of average Georgians. "Jekyll Island needs to be rebuilt — not destroyed, not expanded," said Chapman.

Porter and another authority member, Steve Croy, testified that the legislation would kill the public-private redevelopment now underway, by unfairly capping the profits of its private partner, Linger Longer Communities.

"We understand that Jekyll Island is a state park. but people don't come there for a state park experience. They come there to be in a beach atmosphere," Croy said.

In three votes, the Republicans on the Senate Economic Development Committee defeated the bills. Democrats provided Chapman with his only support.Afterwards, Chapman said the outcome was a victory for "the powers that be" — pointing out that the Reynolds family, which controls Linger Longer, is a significant donor to Republican causes.

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