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Wednesday May 6th, 2015 9:43PM

Gov. Deal signs Jekyll Island development law

By The Associated Press
JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. (AP) - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed laws Monday meant to clarify development regulations on a coastal Georgia island.

The new regulations are aimed at promoting the responsible development of Jekyll Island, southeast of Brunswick, Deal said in a statement. The regulations limit development on the island and clarify the amount of land that can be used for public recreation, unrestricted use, campgrounds and more.

Deal says the legislation is meant to help Jekyll Island retain its reputation as a tourism location while preserving its natural and historic areas.

Georgia lawmakers voted overwhelmingly this year to essentially scrap the state law that governed development on Jekyll Island for four decades. Since 1971, the guiding policy ensuring most of the island state park's beaches, salt marshes and forests remain unspoiled was the law making 65 percent of the island off-limits to construction of hotels, golf courses and other amenities. However, sharp disagreements persisted about how to measure the island's acreage.

The issue reignited last year as the Jekyll Island Authority, the state agency that manages the island, developed a new master plan to guide the park's future. Conservationists argued any marsh surrounding the island shouldn't be included when calculating its acreage a method that would result in numbers showing Jekyll Island exceeded its development limit long ago. Asked for his opinion, Attorney General Sam Olens concluded the 1971 law would count marsh as dry land, which would have left 108 acres on the island open to future construction.

Both sides finally agreed to a compromise that replaces the old percentages with a fixed maximum acreage for development written into state law.

Most of the 1,675 developable acres allowed under the new law have already been used, and future development would be limited to just 78 acres. Twelve of those acres have already been designated for expansion of the park's campground. And any new commercial construction would be further restricted to just 20 acres.

The Senate passed the change unanimously while the House had a single lawmaker vote against it.

Wealthy northern industrialists owned Jekyll Island and used it as a secluded winter getaway until 1947, when Georgia officials bought it for use as a state park. No new acreage was used in the island's recent $50 million tourism makeover, which built a new convention center and beachside park on a site where old construction was bulldozed.
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