Rezoning Cumberland Island:Long-term conservation
Since the fall of 2016, all eyes have been turned towards Cumberland Island, where owners of a private inholding within the Cumberland Island National Seashore were granted a variance to subdivide 87-acres into ten lots. This action has spurred a furious debate about the fate of the remaining 1,000 acres of privately-held land on the island and how much, if any, development should be permitted. Camden County officials recently announced that they are entertaining proposals for a new zoning code for the island.
In light of these events, now is the time for all who love Cumberland Island to come together and advocate for the adoption of a low-density, residential zoning solution for the island’s remaining private property.
OHM recommends adopting zoning regulations for the island that allow for an average density of one residential unit per 25 acres, with an incentive to cluster homes to reduce fragmentation of habitat and the impact of impervious surface and to improve fire management and defense against natural forest fires. Responsible, low-density zoning can balance the needs of both the National Park Service and the private property owners. Read our zoning recommendation letter to Camden County.
Our recommendation is based on the following principles.
- The conservation of habitat is a top priority. Studies have shown that reducing development footprints to 10% or less of the total property acreage can prevent habitat fragmentation and ensure adequate land for development.
- Reduce fragmentation. Clustering is a widely used tool for balancing private property rights with conservation.
- Set flexible parameters. Every landowner uses zoning differently. Some like to apply average, blanket densities, while others prefer more freedom to build units where they like with guidelines for total number of units, minimum lot size, and setbacks from important features.
- The landowners on Cumberland are a significant part of the island’s history. It is our hope that we can find a solution that keeps them on the island and an equally significant part of its future.
Under the Conservation-Preservation Zoning District, one could lawfully build a marina, bait shop, or even a hotel; yet this same policy does not allow a private landowner to build even one single family home.
Maintaining the current zoning is not the best outcome for the park or the private landowners on the island. For Cumberland, a responsible zoning solution is one that both prevents high-rise hotels, marinas, and high-density residential development while preserving private property rights in a way that doesn’t interfere with the public’s use of the park. To get it right, we all must play a role.
Georgia’s entire 100-mile coast is a globally-significant model for conservation. Private and public partnerships have resulted in the protection of ten of our fourteen barrier islands, which serve as critical habitat for some of our most beloved and threatened wildlife. These islands also provide cultural and historic resources that support our community’s past, present, and future. Conservation of these islands, including Cumberland, would not have been possible without private landowners.
Conservation and private property rights go hand in hand. It is possible to support both through responsible zoning. Now is the time for all of us to celebrate the value Cumberland adds to our coast and advocate for sound public policies that preserve the island’s past, present, and future for generations to come.