July 5, 2017

Act Now to Save Cumberland Island

If you’ve ever strolled some of the miles of empty beach, explored the ruins of the Carnegie Plantation or enjoyed spotting the wild horses, it’s time for you to do your part to save Cumberland Island’s heritage.

Cumberland has long resisted the large-scale residential development found elsewhere along the coast. Most of the 40,000-acre island, maintained by the National Park Service, is wild and pristine. Some of the remaining land is private with “retained rights” (which will eventually turn over to the park). But about 1,000 private acres are under “fee simple” ownership, currently zoned conservation/preservation, and here’s where things are getting tricky.

What began last year as an application for a single zoning variance to construct 10 new homes on 88 acres adjacent to park boundaries near Sea Camp has exploded as other property owners have indicated plans to seek high-density development on their land parcels, possibly leading to hundreds of new houses and a nightmare of infrastructure demands. They wish for a rezone of all the fee-simple tracts.

While it is tempting to brand the landowners as heartless and greedy, they are legally guaranteed “reasonable use of their property,” according to state Rep. Jason Spencer, whose district includes Camden County. The Southern Environmental Law Center has undertaken a leading role to negotiate with property owners and discuss options to craft an ordinance for the Camden County Board of Commissioners that would be most likely to protect the island’s historic and natural integrity while still granting certain concessions to property owners. According to a recent article in the Savannah Morning News, the zoning ordinance compromise offered up by the SELC would limit residences to one per 15 acres, with 150-foot setbacks from sensitive areas. The maximum number of new dwellings would thus be 65, in addition to the 24 already on the island. Even with this lower residential density, the character of the whole island will be impacted, and much of its original purpose of historic and natural preservation will be lost.

Time is running short. Please urge the Camden County BOC to take a stand and resist subjecting Cumberland Island to any inappropriate zoning proposal. We can join with the more than 70 percent of Camden County citizens opposed to the rezone (according to a recent poll) and make our concerns known to the BOC directly via the following:

Camden BOC Chair Albert Scott

P.O. Box 8161

Savannah, GA 31412