A public hearing on Jekyll Island’s updated master plan drew criticism from residents.
The master plan, which updates a 2014 version, aims to guide work on the island for the next five years, but island residents and others worry it doesn’t adequately address potential overdevelopment concerns on Jekyll.
Jekyll Island Authority hosted the public input opportunity Thursday.
The board of the JIA is set to vote on whether to approve the plan in December if state officials do not object to the draft sent to them in September and public comments made since.
Three people spoke at the hearing, including Jekyll resident Nancy Reed, who said she doesn’t feel the update addresses climate change and environmental concerns well enough.
“We’re in an environmental crisis, and I don’t see any plan or thought for how we can protect what we have,” she said. “… This is not a plan. This is an outline for what you want to do. Plans have dates and specific tasks. We don’t have that. So we don’t really know what you’re doing, and we live here.”
Susan Inman, a coastal advocate for One Hundred Miles, also spoke.
Overdevelopment and overcrowding were two top priorities made clear in public comments made so far about the plan, she said
“Jekyll is being loved to death,” Inman said. “We need a plan to keep it the People’s Island, a plan that will establish essential growth controls or type and density for development rather than just a series of recommendations.”
Leigh Elkins, senior public service associate at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which has overseen the update process, discussed the contents of the plan and emphasized that the update relies on input from stakeholders, external reviews, survey respondents and town hall participants.
All comments received will be included in the appendices of the final document, Elkins said.
Numerous plans and studies were completed by JIA before the master plan update and contributed to the final draft of the 2021 master plan.
Jones Hooks, executive director of JIA, reviewed aspects of previous plans and studies.
“It’s important for everyone to realize how plans that the authority engages in, how they work together and what their relationships are,” Hooks said.
An important initiative in progress now on Jekyll is a code enforcement revision project, which the authority’s board will be updated on at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
Plans that have provided significant recommendations regarding the island’s future include a comprehensive transportation study in 2016, a study of the economic impact of Jekyll Island that was conducted in 2017 and the carrying capacity and infrastructure assessment that was done in 2018.
“It’s important for you to realize that just because these studies were completed like in 2018, that doesn’t mean that they go away,” Hooks said.
Numerous elements of the 2018 carrying capacity and infrastructure study have already been implemented, Hooks said, including a new gate system, parking additions and updates, event changes and investment in the Summer Waves water park.
“One of the things that’s very important in the capacity study is a continuation of emphasizing the brand that is Jekyll Island, and the brand that is Jekyll Island is our natural character,” Hooks said. “I don’t think there’s anyone who disagrees with that … You can love a park to death, and so we want to be careful about that.”
The board is also required to annually submit to state officials a strategic plan which builds on all these plans.
“It takes all of these various recommendations and works with the individual departments and says, ‘OK how much can we accomplish during the next 12 months, during the fiscal year,’” Hooks said. “So in that plan, in the strategic plan, there are very specific action items and activities that are to be undertaken each year.”
The 2021 master plan also updates a map of Jekyll and highlights three conservation priority areas for protection, Elkins said.
The 2014 master plan set an agreed upon amount of acreage that can be developed at 1,675 acres and identified 1,609 acres as developed with an additional 66 acres that could be developed. Forty-six of those would be for public health, safety or recreation, and 20 acres would be for unrestricted uses.
“Since the 2014 master plan, 5.8 acres have been converted to developed land for public health and safety for a total of 1,614.8 acres currently classified as developed,” Elkins said.
During the 2021 update process, corrections resulted in a change to this acreage count. Currently developed acres will now equal 1,599 acres, which is a reduction of developed lands by 50.8 acres.
“And in doing that, the JIA is voluntarily reducing the overall acreage available for development to 1,659.4 acres, down from 1,675 acres,” Elkins said.
People who have raised concerns about the master plan update hope to see Jekyll take into account the public comments and update the draft.
They cited recent development decisions on Jekyll that concern them, including construction at the former Buccaneer Hotel site on Jekyll, which some say is overly and intensely developed.
Alexa Hawkins, director of marketing and communications for JIA, clarified Friday that the Courtyard & Residence Inn by Marriott property is dual-branded to provide guests with various accommodation options to fit their needs. They feature a shared lobby, shared amenities, all within the existing footprint and land use of previous hotels.
The new property was a vacant lot for more than 15 years and is the former location of four hotels dating back to 1961, Hawkins said.
Jekyll is different from traditional state parks in that it has residential development, Hawkins noted, and there is more residential development than commercial development.
All commercial development through the opening of the new Courtyard & Residence Inn by Marriott has been built on existing footprints, including the Convention Center.