Foes press county on ocean site
The Brunswick News

Opponents of a proposed residential development on the southern tip of Sea Island are asking the Glynn County Commission to void a planning commission decision to allow construction of eight houses on the wind-swept spit of land.

Representatives of environmental watchdogs Center for a Sustainable Coast and Altamaha Riverkeeper and their lawyer, Steve Caley of Atlanta-based GreenLaw, a law firm that advocates on environmental issues, asked the county commission in a letter Thursday to halt the Islands Planning Commission action.

Their argument is that even though the planning commission had authority to approve division of the land into eight lots, peripheral changes that affected planned development approvals Sea Island Co. has long had for the area amounted to a zoning change.

That, they say, should have gone before the county commission before the planning commission acted on the lots.

The planning commission voted, 6-1, Jan. 21 to approve a Sea Island Co. plan to create the lots on land between the Atlantic Ocean and Black Banks River. The approval included what opponents call substantial changes to a previously approved overall development plan. Caley said the unapproved changes included alterations to a planned road to the subdivision and its right-of-way. "Rarely do we see a planning commission, under the guise of approving a preliminary plat, amend a zoning ordinance," Caley said Friday. "We're talking some fairly significant changes, none of which were allowed prior to this action by the planning commission. There's been a lot of outcry about it. As elected representatives, (the county commission) ought to hear people out on something that's a matter of public interest."

Opposition to the development is centered on its impact on the ecology of the sandy spit. County Commissioner Dale Provenzano, who represents St. Simons and Sea islands, attended the planning commission meeting at which the lot plan was approved.

While he disagreed with some residents' concerns that the development could cause problems with the island's wastewater system - Provenzano is also chairman of the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission - he said he has no objection to the planning commission's approval of the plat. The planning commission's task, he said, was to make a determination based on the county's ordinances. That is what he says happened.

He said Friday he will recommend to other county commissioners that they not get involved in the issue. County Commission Chairman Michael Browning, however, said Friday he is not opposed to hearing from opponents. No matter, opponents of the plan say they are not giving up.

David Kyler, executive director of the St. Simons Island-based Center for a Sustainable Coast, said Friday that the request to the county commission is a first step that could lead to other measures if the opponents are not heard. One option is a lawsuit, he said.

But Altamaha Riverkeeper Deborah Sheppard, the environmental monitor for the organization of the same name that monitors the Altamaha River watershed, said she hopes litigation won't be necessary. She hopes the county commission will get a better understanding of the issue from GreenLaw and from listening to opponents' concerns.

"I hope (the commission) will hold a public hearing, evaluate this whole issue, and make decisions on that very fragile area in the public interest," Sheppard said Friday. "Quite frankly, we hate to spend our time and energy on something that's so foolhardy, but here we are. Certainly, we have a responsibility to the public. "At this point, I'm willing to believe that people, when provided with the whole facts, will be open to looking at this further. What happens next will remain to be seen."
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