Organizers of the annual Stewbilee festival attended Thursday’s city Urban Redevelopment Agency meeting to express their concerns about proposed improvements to Mary Ross Park.
Teeple Hill, chairman of the Stewbilee committee for the Brunswick Kiwanis Club, said his organization has held the event at the park for the past 20 years, but the annual festival could be permanently disbanded depending on where some of the proposed work is built.
“Every change creates obstacles for setup,” he said. “When you start putting things in wide-open spaces, it kills the event. It will probably end Stewbilee for us.”
Proceeds from the event help support the Boys & Girls Club.
“We raise a lot of money for the Boys & Girls Club,” he said.
Some of the proposed work includes the addition of a splash pad, fountain, climbing wall and more bathrooms.
LaRon Bennett, chairman of the redevelopment agency, showed photographs of the 2018 festival and where some of the proposed improvements would be located. He said a study will determine where some of the changes to the park would be located.
Hill said festival organizers were able to work around the playground already constructed at the park.
“Where the playground is right now, we were able to incorporate it,” he said.
But he said the Kiwanis Club will need to add more tents, depending on the number of participants serving stew at the event, and that could be an issue.
He didn’t disagree, however, when Bennett said the playground saw significant use during the festival and CoastFest, the other big event at the park, and parents loved it. Bennett said the goal is not to impact the big annual events at the park.
“We don’t want to do anything to what you want to do,” he said. “We want to advance it. I don’t think the plans would be untenable.”
Bennett said the climbing wall “is not a given” and based on estimates “it will have a minimal impact for Stewbilee.”
“The restrooms and other stuff are still up in the air,” he said.
But Hill said he still has concerns about some of the proposed plans for the park.
“It will have a huge impact on us,” Hill said.
Bennett suggested a future meeting with festival organizers to discuss their concerns in more detail.
After the Kiwanis Club members left the meeting, Mayor Cornell Harvey said there has to be a way to address their concerns. He also pointed out that the park is only used several times a year for big events.
“It seems Stewbilee is driving what happens at Mary Ross Park,” he said. “An entity wants design input for one or two events a year.”
He said the organizers for CoastFest have expressed a willingness to resolve the issues.
“I think they should work it out,” he said. “We can do things together.”
Agency members also discussed the selection process for the architectural company that would perform the improvements at the park.
Bennett expressed a desire for local businesses to make the improvements. He said the firm selected should have the qualifications to perform the work, plus ideas for the design of the park.
“We need to see their design focus for the park,” he said. “We need a process to review the architect.”
This legislative session’s attempt at reforming the Shore Protection Act contains within it a paragraph solely devoted to preserving within state law the viability of development on the Sea Island spit.
State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, raised the issue Thursday during a hearing on House Bill 445 in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. She noted that state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, told her earlier during this bill’s journey that there’s not another place in the state to where it would pertain.
As written in the bill, the section states, “The area of operation of this part shall not include any area landward of the most seaward platted lot line, if roadways, bridges or water and sewer lines have been extended to such a lot prior to July 1, 2019, on the updrift side of a groin permitted under the Shore Protection Act within a distance from the groin of 5,000 feet or ten times the length of the groin, whichever is less.”
Hogan confirmed what he said to Drenner before regarding that part of the bill, which is in lines 84-88.
“Those are the only groins I know of, and groins have been permitted to try to protect the sand that’s been renourishing those beaches,” said Hogan, who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “And prior to the last groin going in, Sea Island’s renourishment wound up on St. Simons, and we (on St. Simons) were very thankful for that because we didn’t have to do the renourishment at a tremendous cost — Sea Island paid that cost, and we benefitted on St. Simons from the renourishment of Sea Island.”
The other significant changes within the bill would remove a lot of the permitting procedure within the law as it pertains to “minor activity” within the SPA’s jurisdictional area. Often — particularly with a number of properties on St. Simons Island, backyard improvements have to submit to the months-long process.
If H.B. 445 passes the General Assembly in its current form, the state Department of Natural Resources commissioner would be able to approve such an application after a minimum of 15 days. However, there are allowances within the bill for the commissioner to refer the project to the full Shore Protection Committee, and for members of the Shore Protection Committee to ask that the project get the full consideration.
Doug Haymans, director of DNR’s Coastal Resources Division, said, “The best example that I’ll give you of why we want to do this is, there’s an individual who came to us who wanted to put a planter around an oak tree and install landscaping — that’s was it. And that had to go through a full-blown permit application and several months to get approval to do that in their own backyard.
“And that’s an example of things that come before the committee on a regular basis. We just feel like those types of activities can be considered by the commissioner, and if he then decides it needs to go further to the committee, it can go there, as well.”
As stated in the bill, minor activity encompasses “an activity such as the construction of installation of decks, patios or porches or the alteration of native landscaping, so long as such construction, installation or alteration, when combined with other structures on the subject parcel or portion thereof, does not impact more than a total of one-third of the subject parcel or portion thereof that is subject to the jurisdiction of this part; or the construction or installation of elevated crosswalks providing access across sand dunes and shoreline stabilization activities.”
The legislation also removed the possibility for localities to develop their own permitting bodies, but Haymans said no locality included in the SPA jurisdiction has done that in the 40 years of the law’s existence, so it made sense to provide in the law in each instance that the Shore Protection Committee handles those issues.
State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, said that regardless of what happened before, with issues of climate change particularly affecting coastal communities, that provision should be left in the law.
She later voted against the bill’s passage with the hopes of talking further about local permitting authorities.
H.B. 445 did pass out of committee, albeit with some no votes, and moves on to the House Rules Committee.
With residents of the city of Brunswick no longer paying a tax to support the Glynn County Police Department, the county is looking at options to compensate for the loss.
Glynn County Manager Alan Ours broached the subject Thursday’s at the Glynn County Commission planning retreat.
At some point in the past, when deciding which government entities would offer which services, the city of Brunswick and the county decided to levy a countywide tax to pay for the county’s police department, Ours explained.
“Last year we were talking to the city about updating the service delivery strategy and they said ‘Hey guys, we’re not OK with countywide millage paying for county police anymore.’ Since then, we’ve been working from a staff standpoint to create a special tax district for county police,” Ours said. “Right now, based on our analysis, we’re about $700,000 apart.”
To make up that difference, he recommended the county commission establish a tax district similar to the fire tax. The new police tax would not increase residents’ overall property taxes, he said. He proposed the commission decrease its base millage rate to compensate.
“Why this wasn’t done a long time ago I don’t know, but professionally I think it’s the right thing to do,” Our said.
He also said the commission could consider imposing the fire tax on tax district 2, creating a countywide police and fire millage rate.
“One of the things I’d like to ask you to consider is, No. 1, whether or not we should apply the fire tax millage to the people in tax district 2. No. 2, if the answer to that is yes, we would propose to create the county police and fire district that’s combined. There’s a lot of advantages to that,” Ours said.
Glynn County is composed of six tax districts, designated in county documents as District 1, the city of Brunswick; District 2, outlying areas of the county; District 3, the Ballard area and Blythe Island; District 4, St. Simons Island; District 5, Sea Island; and District 6, Jekyll Island. They are different from the districts used for commission and school board representation.
Each district pays at least three of six millage rates: state, county, city, county maintenance and operations, school maintenance and operations, capital projects and fire. Sea Islands residents also pay a special police millage.
Commission Chairman Mike Browning opposed the idea of imposing the fire millage on tax District 2. His district — commission District 1 — mostly covers tax District 2. Residents of the outlying area of the county don’t get effective fire service and should not have to pay the fire tax, he said.
“Even if they respond, your house is probably going to be burned down by the time they get there,” Browning said.
To back it up, he noted the Insurance Service Office rating of the area and the high fire insurance rates for those who live there. Commissioner Bob Coleman, an insurance agent, said that once you get further than five miles from a fire station and 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant, the risk to homes becomes such that insurance rates are much higher.
“If you want to give these folks the same kind of service, if you want to charge them, you go out there and you build fire stations and you staff them and you put the equipment in them,” Browning said.
Commissioner Peter Murphy said the commission should at least consider the idea.
“I would prefer some factual analysis rather than sort of the sense that it’s ‘This is what we’ve been told,’” Murphy said. “I think there’s some justification. If there really is significant growth out there, do we need to put a fire station out there? But short of that, what is the service delivery like out there? Are houses burning down because we didn’t get there in time?”
Murphy said he wanted to further discuss the issue sooner rather than later, given the impending fiscal year 2019-2020 budget discussions.
In other business, commissioners also discussed planning for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020.
Ours presented the commissioners with a list of potential projects to narrow down and Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford gave them a timeframe for preparing a list and getting a referendum on the ballot in 2020.
A SPLOST referendum could be on the ballot in the presidential preference primary in March 2020, the general primary in May 2020 or the general election in November 2020. Mumford said the commission should start the process of initiating the referendum around six months before whichever election it picks.
The commission also talked about 2019-2020 budget considerations and milestones in its strategic plan, among other things.
Cormac McGarvey built a three-story office building on Newcastle Street in downtown Brunswick in 2002 under the mistaken belief that businesses would be eager to occupy space there.
It never came close to meeting expectations, and it wasn’t long before the building was empty.
“That didn’t work out. You couldn’t give them away,” he said of office space in the building.
Now, McGarvey is renovating the building, which he estimates will cost about $200,000, and he is confident his new business plan will be successful.
He is converting the building into a 10-unit efficiency apartment complex that should be completed in about six weeks.
Downtown merchants believe a key to their continued success is for more housing downtown. McGarvey’s belief in the resurgence downtown is one reason he decided to renovate the building.
“I think downtown Brunswick is coming back,” he said.
For much of the time the building has stood on the 1700 block of Newcastle street, McGarvey had no paying occupants, but squatters managed to break into the building and make themselves at home without his knowledge.
“The place was just abandoned,” he said.
Workers are now in the process of removing the old furniture, mattresses, clothing and other debris left behind before the final preparations are completed to make the building ready for new occupants to move in.
After the building is cleaned out, the bathrooms will be completed, molding trim will be added, and kitchen cabinets and new appliances installed. Each efficiency unit will also have new tile, carpeting and a fresh coat of paint.
“It will look real nice when it’s completed,” he said.
The tabby walls on the exterior blend in nicely with other downtown buildings and the building is capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds up to 150 mph, he said.
“The tabby just blends in,” he said.
Another feature the tenants will like is the thick floors which means those living on the lower floors won’t hear their upstairs neighbors walking or doing chores.
“There should be no noise issues,” he said.
Other work that will be completed before it is occupied includes landscaping and cosmetic improvements.
McGarvey said he plans to rent the one- and two-room efficiencies for around $700 a month and he already has a waiting list. He plans to run background checks on all tenants before he signs a lease with them.
“I know it’s going to do well,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
One of the building occupants will be a full-time maintenance worker to ensure any problems are dealt with in a timely manner.
Rob Bryant, a maintenance worker for another efficiency apartment complex owned by McGarvey, is helping with the renovations in the new building. His background is as a professional painter and he is confident the new tenants will like their new home.
“We have no problem renting our efficiencies,” he said. “This is a prime location.”