An important public message from Ed MeadowsMay 31, 2015

The St. Simons Challenge—What We Want Our Island to Be:
Getting from Here to There

We have well-known problems on SSI: rapid development, sewer and water issues, traffic, loss of tree canopy, groundwater, and more. These are serious concerns. They threaten the island’s character—the basis of our economy. The solution: sound management through good planning.

A lesson from over three decades dealing with such issues is: The public must be involved. Experience in other communities shows that if citizens do not feel part of the process, they may not support the solutions.

Here is a 3 Point Plan for SSI issues. The recommendations are of three types:

The goal is to establish standards that protect the integrity of our island because it is unique. These recommendations are in addition to the options published by Glynn County Community Development Department.

Proposals for Island Protection

  1. Designate scenic corridors along major travel ways and commercial centers on the island. Determine protection requirements and incentives for these areas, canopy, buffers, etc. Support the St. Simons Land Trust or the Tree Foundation to acquire conservation easements along the corridors.
  2. Require buffers along all major roads, subdivision entrances and commercial centers.
  3. Provide tax and financial incentives to landowners and developers for development that: Require impact fees for development that increases demand on public roads, utility infrastructure or services, and that reduces tree canopy.
  4. Increase set back distances for all development, including single family development. Current standards are not sufficient to protect screening, runoff, or the property rights of neighbors.
  5. • Provide technical assistance to developers and builders on designing projects that reduce density, maintain scenic character, reduce density, retain tree canopy, reduce infrastructure needs, maximize porous surface, reduce runoff and water treatment requirements.
    • Provide information to landowners and builders about ways to protect tree cover on lots to be built on.
  6. Establish tree cutting standards designed to maintain tree canopy and visual screening. Require notification prior to harvest of trees for construction or development. The purpose is so the landowner and builder can be provided information on protecting tree cover. County planning staff and Cooperative Extension Service confirm that landowner and tree contractors made notification and received tree conservation information. Make tree cutters responsible for ensuring the landowner has obtained information on tree conservation options and will meet canopy standards, prior to signing a contract or removing trees.
  7. Establish a "One Percent for the Island" program. One percent programs are voluntary payment of 1% on sale of all goods and services on the island. Revenue goes into fund to protect scenic areas, open space, pocket parks, and greenways. This enables visitors to contribute to protecting the scenic quality that attracts them here. One percent programs are successful in several states. SSI is the ideal location for a one percent program.

Recommendations for Public Participation

  1. The Glynn County planning department has identified 18 specific actions. This is a good start. Appoint a Working Group to evaluate these, and add more recommendations. Include all stakeholder interests on the Working Group. Hold several public input sessions on the recommendations. One or two sessions are not sufficient to collect all the ideas.
  2. Appoint a broad-based Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) to come up with additional ideas. Request they provide consensus recommendations to the IPC and county staff. Include all stakeholders, with broad range of interests: business, tourism, conservation, residents, etc.—all who have a critical stake in the outcomes. Such a CAC can do much to create trust with the public that the process is open.

Public Works Projects

Public works projects are paid for with public funds. At minimum, public projects need to be consistent with goals for island character. Under no circumstances should public projects detract from this character. We should expect that publicly-financed projects, and any project supported with economic development bonds, aid in preserving our island's special qualities, which is our economic base.

  1. All public works and utility projects should be designed to enhance island character. Since there will be construction equipment at the site, project design should include how the project can be enhance the area while the work is being done—landscaping, tree canopy, amenities, etc. Over time as these projects are completed, this will result in very cost-effective island improvements, particularly along roads, waterways and public spaces. This includes but not limited to utility work by public or private utilities, road or ROW widening, maintenance or upgrades, vegetation clearing and airport maintenance and improvements.
  2. The use of porous materials should be given preference for all areas to be paved, such as was done at FLETC's new training village, allowing water to drain and not flood.
  3. All public works, and any project on county, city or public land, should exceed minimum protection standards. It is appropriate for the public sector to provide leadership and set the example for conserving island character.
  4. County commissioners and staff should encourage all new construction to incorporate coastal hazard adaptation strategies. All public works projects should include hazard mitigation. This will enable our community to prepare public infrastructure for hazard events economically, a piece at a time.

These ideas will go a long way toward ensuring our community progresses the way we want it. They require more work to fill out the details. That is one role for the CAC and the Stakeholder Roundtables—creating standards and incentives tailored to our community. The public will contribute more ideas to make this even better.

Private Property Rights—Consistent with Protecting Neighborhood Character

In America, we hold private property rights sacred. At the same time, we protect each other, and the community, with reasonable rules. You have the right to own a car but no one argues you should stop at red lights for safety. You can live where you want, but we don’t allow convicted sex offenders to live next door to our children.

Your right to exercise your private rights stops when it intrudes on your neighbors' rights. This is why we have laws about property lines, set backs, fences, polluting the river, etc.

Recently a home-site in our neighborhood was stripped with no regard for the trees—and no regard for the rights of neighboring property owners. Imagine their horror when they saw that the character of their neighborhood was destroyed in just one day. Their property values, and their property rights are affected by the inconsiderate actions of others.

Most people love the wonderful calendar photos of picturesque villages in New England—especially in Fall with the colorful leaves. Those gorgeous photos are the result of equal parts tax incentives, building standards, community support and landowner pride.

We could do that here on SSI.

Developers are concerned about the impact of protection requirements. However, developers routinely impose restrictions on property rights for marketing, to increase the attractiveness of their projects to buyers. They understand the value of property restrictions to enhance sales and increase profits. Developers restrict the color, siding and lighting in the homeowner association covenants they create. They prohibit hanging out clothes even inside a screened porch, and what you can do in your own yard, driveway, etc.

Proposals to modify development standards brings cries of “taking my property rights and value.” Such broad, general statements are debatable—each situation must be evaluated. Development restrictions do not necessarily reduce land value. All that is needed is alternative site design ideas. Numerous communities throughout the U.S. know that scenic preservation increases value and desirability.

Density of development is one concern. But, the maximum number of lots per acre is not necessarily the most profitable. Developers can reduce their infrastructure costs, and get a quicker return on investment for well-planned projects that are harmonious with the surroundings. When paired with available financial incentives and well-defined building standards, island character can be protected while developer's profits benefit.

As many communities have shown, when done right, all can win.

Ed Meadows, St. Simons Island,, (912) 268-2834

Mr. Meadows is a resident of SSI, a real estate appraiser and licensed broker. He worked in the forest products industry and as a senior executive in natural resources management, facilitating resolution to public policy and land use issues.