Over 70% of Camden County Residents Oppose Plans to Rezone Cumberland Island for Development
St. Marys, GA — The majority of Camden County residents overwhelmingly oppose plans to rezone 1,000 acres on Cumberland Island to allow for more residential development, according to a recent public opinion poll.
More than 70% oppose the proposal to rezone the Cumberland Island National Seashore and allow more residential development, with concerns that the plan would threaten Cumberland Island’s natural beauty, pristine maritime forests, salt marshes, undeveloped beaches and unique wildlife.
Conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the poll 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.
Camden County residents place a high value on the Cumberland Island National Seashore– with 88% feeling it is important to the county’s economy and 77% 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% 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 question of whether to allow for more residential development, with concerns that the rezoning could encourage excessive future development and irreparably change the visitor experience of Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island.
Part of the property that would be impacted borders the northern edge of the National Park Service’s Sea Camp campground and would be directly adjacent to one of the most popular visitor destinations in the park, which also features a ferry landing and visitor center.
After the property owners indicated plans to seek a very high density 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 citizens from all over the country and to temper the demands of the property owners, Camden County officials invited input from the land owners and other groups willing to provide specific recommendations for an ordinance, with the request that all parties involved attempt to reach a compromise by June 1st.
“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 Bill Sapp, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “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 like more restrictive setbacks from building near sand dunes and the National Park Service’s land. However, SELC is very concerned that Camden County and the other parties will not be able to reach an agreement on an appropriate density level and setbacks, which is a crucial issue for the island’s future.
“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.
In December 2016, the Camden County Planning Commission approved a hardship variance requested by Lumar, LLC to subdivide an 87-acre tract into ten lots for private home construction. Along with over 780 individuals and groups, SELC submitted comments opposing the variance, charging that Lumar’s application failed to meet any of the standards necessary for granting a hardship variance.
On behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and St. Marys EarthKeepers, SELC filed an appeal challenging the decision to grant the variance. Originally scheduled for February 2017, the public hearing before the Board of Commissioners was postponed indefinitely. Shortly after, the Camden County Commission proposed to rezone the entire 1,000 acres of remaining private inholdings within the bounds of the Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Most of the 1,000 acres in question are currently zoned under the Conservation/Preservation classification. According to the Camden County Development Code, Camden County zoned the inholdings on the island as Conservation/Preservation to ensure that these areas were protected from any development that would destroy their undeveloped character.
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org