Wednesday, March 26, 2008

03/07 - Bill to limit building on Jekyll dies in House

The Florida Times-Union
March 7, 2008
By Brandon Larrabee,
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - A proposal that would have restricted new development on Jekyll Island's beachfront and set up new standards to protect its traditional role as an affordable getaway essentially died in committee Thursday.

But supporters, convinced that the measure reflects what Georgians want for "the people's island," said they would scramble to find another way to push the regulations through the General Assembly, perhaps by tacking the measure onto another bill before the legislative session ends in early April.

"The citizens have spoken," said Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, who sponsored the measure. "We haven't listened. The island belongs to the people of Georgia, and as a landowner, they should be able to have a voice on what happens on the island."

Under House Bill 1289, an open beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island would have been largely shielded from development. And at least 50 percent of new hotel rooms built in an effort to revitalize the island would have to have rates "comparable" to the nightly rate state employees get for hotel rooms when on official business, or about $128.

Citing a lack of time before a crucial legislative deadline, a House subcommittee set up to consider H.B. 1289 decided to take no action on the measure.

Members of the panel said it would be too late to get the bill through the full State Institutions and Property Committee and to the House floor by Tuesday, the 30th working day of the legislative session, when bills must either pass one chamber or die.

"Day 30 is Tuesday," said Rep. Mike Cheokas, D-Americus. "And we won't be able to make a committee meeting until after Day 30."

A similar measure was killed last week by the Senate Economic Development Committee.

The Jekyll Island Authority, which manages the island for the state, has argued that the measure would kill a planned $352 million development by Linger Longer Communities, developer of the posh Reynolds Plantation resort on Lake Oconee.

Instead, committee members said the House might be willing to consider a nonbinding resolution urging the Jekyll Island Authority to follow some of the standards Buckner's bill would have put in state law.

Supporters of Buckner's measure accused the subcommittee of intentionally moving slowly, delaying the subcommittee meeting for several days before taking it up Thursday.

"They dragged their heels on setting a date for the subcommittee," said David Egan, head of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a grass-roots organization that has been critical of the Linger Longer proposal.

But the battle over Jekyll isn't completely over, Buckner said, noting the end of the session doesn't come until the close of the 40th working day.

"I'm not going to give up hope yet," she said. "We have at least 10 legislative days.", (678) 977-3709.
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