Wednesday, March 26, 2008

03/22 - Jekyll defense now up to Plan B

The Florida Times-Union
March 22, 2008
Times-Union correspondent

Image: CHRIS VIOLA/The Times-UnionA group of 20-foot tall pines in the parking lot of the Jekyll Island Convention Center is considered a boundary for development on the beach.

JEKYLL ISLAND - Two days before a House committee voted to ban development along Jekyll Island's main beach, a state agency delineated a large portion of the same area as an environmentally sensitive zone.

With the ban standing little chance of passage, laws designed to protect sensitive dunes inside that zone may be conservationists' best recourse in curbing development along the beach.

While Linger Longer Communities, Jekyll Island's development partner, said it can make design changes to meet the environmental standards and permit requirements, conservation groups say it's going to be tougher than they think.

The state Department of Natural Resources' survey showed nearly half of Jekyll's proposed beachfront village will fall within Georgia Shore Protection Act jurisdiction. The Jekyll Island Authority, the island's governing body, had anticipated portions of the development would be affected and had requested the survey in January.

"We take our charge to protect the unique and unspoiled beaches of Jekyll Island very seriously," authority board Chairman Ben Porter said in a statement released Tuesday.

Georgia's Shore Protection Act restricts construction on the landward side of dunes in order to protect the natural flow of the sand that maintains them. The dune system, in turn, protects people and property from storm surges and erosion, said Susan Shipman, director of the DNR's Coastal Resources Division.

To determine the area that falls within the act's jurisdiction, survey crews find the first trees 20 feet and taller west of the dunes and then draw lines between them. Anything on the ocean side of the resulting line is considered to be under the Shore Protection Act. In order to be granted construction permits, buildings within the jurisdictional area must be hurricane resistant and a third of the land must remain in a natural state, Shipman has said.

An official from developer Linger Longer Communities says the company is taking the news of the jurisdiction line in stride.

"We know this is just part of working on the coast," said Jim Langford, project executive for Linger Longer. "We had already planned some significant changes [to our proposed design] based on public input. We are comfortable working with the Shore Protection recommendations and will take the jurisdiction line into account."

Langford said part of the beach village's convention center hotel site, part of the retail district, condominiums and time-share units will be affected by the Shore Protection delineation. He believes his company can accommodate the one-third no-build restriction, because the overall development incorporates 40 percent green space already.

"It might mean moving things around a little bit. It might mean setting things back from the beach," he said.

David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a grass-roots group advocating restrained development on Jekyll, noted the restrictions will affect one of the densest portions of the Linger Longer development.

Much of the beach village's proposed green space was planned for the island interior, not the beach, he said.

Egan says the Jekyll Island Authority did developers no favor by choosing a beachfront parcel for development.

"What did they expect they would put there, a park?" he said. "A developer is going to put hotels and condos to maximize their profit. You can't blame them for doing that."

Officials with Center for a Sustainable Coast, an environmental watchdog group, agree that Linger Longer will need to change its design to comply with Shore Protection requirements.

"You have hardened structures, houses, walls and condominiums in a highly erodeable area," said Wesley Woolf, managing director of the organization. "That's not a smart business decision and it's not a smart natural resource preservation decision."

David Kyler, executive director for Center for a Sustainable Coast, says the requirement to protect shoreline areas within the act's jurisdiction is more complex than a simple one-third no-build requirement.

"The DNR has a responsibility to protect the dunes. They can require two-thirds or more if they believe there will be an impact to the sand sharing system," he said.

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