More than 70% of local residents oppose plans to rezone Cumberland Island for development

Visitors to Cumberland Island National Seashore depart from the ferry in St. Marys, Georgia, where many residents don’t support plans to rezone the island for development. (© Emily Driscoll)

The majority of residents in Camden County, Georgia, overwhelmingly oppose plans to rezone 1,000 acres of Cumberland Island to allow for more residential development, according to a recent public opinion poll.

More than 70 percent oppose the proposal to rezone the privately held land on the Cumberland Island National Seashore and allow more residential construction, with concerns that the plan would threaten Cumberland Island’s natural beauty, pristine maritime forests, salt marshes, undeveloped beaches, and abundant wildlife, all of which draw visitors who serve as a key driver of the local economy.

The poll, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and commissioned by SELC, surveyed 400 registered voters living in Camden County. Beyond simply opposing new residential development, wide majorities feel the rezoning proposal would negatively impact the environment and local economy.

Cramping Cumberland Island camping

Properties proposed for development on Georgia's Cumberland Island are adjacent to the popular Seacamp Camping area.

Camden County residents place a high value on the Cumberland Island National Seashore–with 88 percent feeling it is important to the county’s economy and 77 percent indicating it is important to the local quality of life. Those most likely to “strongly” oppose development correlate highly with those who most frequently visit the island. In an average year, 57 percent of county residents personally visit the island at least once.

Over the past six months, a groundswell of public outcry has continued to grow around the rezoning question, with concerns that it could encourage excessive future development and irreparably change the visitor experience on Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island.

The property is currently zoned for conservation, and much of it borders the northern edge of the National Park Service’s Sea Camp campground, directly adjacent to one of the most popular visitor destinations in the park, with a ferry landing and visitor center. 

  • After the property owners indicated plans to seek a very high density zoning that could lead to the construction of hundreds of new houses within the National Seashore with minimal setbacks, and after Camden County officials stated intentions to move forward with plans to rezone the 1,000 acres with or without SELC’s participation, SELC entered discussions in order to establish protective parameters.

In an attempt to quell the outrage from local residents and people from all over the country who love Cumberland Island, as well as to temper the demands of the property owners, Camden County officials invited input from land owners and other groups willing to provide specific recommendations for an ordinance, with the request that all parties attempt to reach a compromise by June 1.

“Although we appreciate the opportunity to participate in the ordinance process, we remain committed to our position that we do not want additional development on Cumberland Island,” said Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “Nonetheless, we feel it has been critical to continue the discussions with the goal of reaching the most protective ordinance conditions possible that preserve the island’s historic and natural integrity.”

Participating in discussions over several months has resulted in positive provisions, such as more restrictive setbacks from building near sand dunes and the National Park Service’s land. However questions like the appropriate density for development, which could have a huge impact on the island’s future, remain unresolved.

“Up until this point, Camden County leaders have played an important role in protecting the Cumberland Island National Seashore from development,” said Sapp. “If we want future generations to enjoy this iconic place—one of the last of its kind—the Camden County Commissioners must take a stand against subjecting Cumberland Island to an inappropriate rezoning proposal.”

Concerned citizens will still have an opportunity to weigh in on any proposed zoning ordinance through the public notice and comment process.

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