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Jekyll Island bill likely to pass
Cumming lawmaker helped craft measure
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Forsyth County News

It appears a Jekyll Island development bill is likely to be approved by the 2014 Georgia General Assembly.

Senate Bill 296 and House Bill 715, both of which contain identical language, have passed through their respective chambers.

District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, a Republican from Cumming who sponsored the House version, said the bill will help the Georgia island continue to be self-sufficient, instead of relying on taxes.

The bills, which allow for more responsible development on the island, were the result of the Jekyll Island-State Park Authority Oversight Committee, which Hamilton chaired for the first of its two-year existence.

Decades ago, there was a rule that just 35 percent of the island could be developed. However, Hamilton said during the 42 years since then, just 40 of the island’s 5,700 acres have been developed.

“It’s not always looked great from a development standpoint because there weren’t a lot of business incentives. But now that they know the future of the island and that there are more acres,” Hamilton said.

“We’re sending two messages — to the people of the state, that we’re going to preserve this great natural resource of ours; and to the business community and also the state, that we’re going to allow a certain amount of economic development and a certain amount of tax base.”

The measure proposes allowing for the conversion of as many as 1,675 acres for commercial development. It places a timeline on such developments and has specific locations that must serve certain purposes, such as a 46-acre tract for public health, safety or recreation and 12 acres for the expansion of existing campground.

Hamilton said the compromise was a delicate one, but involved all impacted parties, including environmental groups and area residents.

“When I was chairman, I said why don’t we approach this from a different perspective. Why don’t we put a stake in the ground, determine what acres we want to develop and that’s it,” he said. “We started working on it and it was a combination of the various groups.

“The end result was something historic ... we really came together with legislation that everybody agreed on.”

Hamilton said the measure was introduced in both the House and Senate to guarantee nothing changed from the committee’s proposal.

“The compromise we had was so delicate that if there were any changes to the bill whatsoever, we would run the risk of it falling apart,” he said. “Both bills passed both chambers with no amendments, and so we’re in a good position to move forward.

“I’m very confident that one of the two measures will pass.”