Jekyll Island Georgia Civic Association Reports Results of Public Opinion Poll on Island

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Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park (IPJI) polled visitors and residents about the Jekyll Town Center Project

Save Jekyll Island

free market forces should direct development;

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Will new condominiums, hotels and shops find a home along the main beach of Jekyll Island State Park? A proposal by private developer Linger Longer Communities (LLC) calling for just that has been under review for nearly a year now. Critics have contended that the so-called town center project is misplaced, over-sized, and out of step with what Jekyll Island is all about as a state park. Proponents have argued that the project is essential to Jekyll's revitalization and have claimed that its opponents consist of just a handful of Jekyll Island residents who resist all change.

While the Jekyll Island development question has grabbed considerable ink in the press and blog space on the internet, little has been said about the data gathered through a series of statewide surveys on this troublesome issue.

The most far-reaching of the Jekyll Island surveys have been conducted by a civic association, the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park (IPJI). Using its website - http://www.savejekyllisland.org - as a means of polling Jekyll's visitors, the IPJI has sponsored three surveys dealing with Jekyll's redevelopment. While the survey questions have varied with the times, common to all three has been a question dealing with Jekyll's need for a town center.

What do the results show?

The majority (61%) of the 6,717 respondents to the first two surveys, which were conducted prior to the LLC proposal, favored the concept of a town center (shops, restaurants, a convention center and a convention hotel), but only 523 of those respondents (8%) believed condominiums should be included within the town center, and only 109 (2%) wanted to see a hundred or more built.

The IPJI Survey III, which focuses on LLC's proposal, shows a response pattern similar to that seen in its earlier surveys. Ninety-five percent of the respondents objected to the size of the town center being proposed; 98% said "no" to the proposed number of condos and time-shares; and 91% did not want to see any new condos built along Jekyll's currently open beachfront.

Collectively, the three surveys found 97% of the respondents registering support for an improved Jekyll Island, with hotel reconstruction leading the list of preferred changes.

Georgians from over 350 towns participated in the IPJI's surveys, with less than 3% of the more than 10,000 respondents being Jekyll Island residents.

Since surveys using "yes/no" options have their limitations, the IPJI asked participants to explain their responses in order to understand why people chose to reply as they did. A scan of those comments, which are available on the IPJI's website, shows the following imperatives to be dominant:

  • Rebuild what needs rebuilding but do not build along Jekyll's remaining open beachfront.
  • Refrain from building near Jekyll's environmentally-sensitive areas.
  • Ensure that Jekyll's character, feel and grace are not compromised by redevelopment.
  • Remain true to Jekyll's tradition of affordability for average income citizens.
  • Listen to and heed what the island's visitors are saying about Jekyll's revitalization.

Reinforcement of the findings of the IPJI's surveys can be found in the responses to the final question on the Jekyll Island Authority's 2006 Visitor Survey which asked, "Which choice below best describes your feelings about the future of Jekyll Island?" Just 5% agreed with the statement that, "Strict limitations should be eased to allow for more development of new hotels, homes and shops;" a mere 2% felt that "free market forces should direct development;" and more than half (51%) agreed that "any new development of hotels, cottages, condominiums, restaurants and shops should be limited to existing sites."

Non-expansive redevelopment of Jekyll Island State Park has been further endorsed by the more than 10,000 people who signed a resolution sponsored by Senator Jeff Chapman earlier this year, which, in expressing concern over the size and location of the proposed town center, called for the preservation of direct public access to Jekyll's main beach.

Clearly, Georgians from across the state, while supporting necessary improvements, favor a balance between revitalization and protection of Jekyll's traditional character. Hopefully, when LLC releases its revised town center proposal later this month it will reflect the wishes of the general public. If it does not, the discord sparked by the initial proposal will be reinforced by the anger of thousands of Georgians whose input on the future of their own state park has been discounted.

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