WOODBINE-Cumberland Island, GA in Camden County has a reputation for scenic views, ecological interdependence, and a contested legacy to preserve the island for future generations. In December of 2016, the appointed members of the Camden County Planning Commission approved a hardship variance for a family, owing a significant amount of property on Cumberland Island bought in 1998, to build and develop the property for a family compound. The property is expected to be subdivided into 10-acre lots by Lumar, LLC. The land is accessible only by dirt road as county ordinances prohibit the subdivision of land not fronted by a paved road on Cumberland Island. Because there are no paved roads on Cumberland Island, the only method a property owner can use to divide the property is through a hardship variance.
There were hearings and appeals to be considered about the rezoning before the April 4th meeting, but the County delayed all processes moving forward for several months to allow for continued negotiations and a resolution. The appeals were brought forward by citizens, environmental groups, and the National Park Service citing that the variance does not meet the requirements of the counties five conditions for modification. If the variance is approved in the future, this would add to the long history of the contested eco-paradise.
Several Camden County citizens and admirers journeyed to the Camden County Commission meeting on April 4th to advocate for the preservation of Cumberland Island. Some citizens were present at the meeting to help educate and inform the others about the importance of not expanding private development. Some residents spoke publicly to voice their concerns while others brought signs and to make a peaceful statement to support and protect Cumberland Island. Ms. Gabriella Simmons, a citizen of Camden County, stated she came as a concerned citizen and parent to advocate for the preservation of Cumberland Island. “Cumberland is one of the few remaining wild places for future generations. When it is gone, it’s gone.”
Tom Canning – Camden citizen
“To be clear, my family and I are firmly against the rezoning of Cumberland Island and the rezoning will have an impact on the scenic, scientific, and historical conditions of the island. I support personal property rights; however, the county should continue to plan within the property zoning and legal status.” Mr. Canning cites that Lumar, LLC receives tax advantages for more than 87 acres of prime oceanfront property within the boundary of the National Seashore. The property in question is currently estimated at $169,000 with a yearly property tax value of $2000. In 1998, the property was estimated at $3.5 million dollars. According to Mr. Canning, the current property in question benefits from a reduced tax rate because it is directly related to being classified as a Conservation Preservation status. The property was classified as Conservation Preservation in 2002. Cannon affirms this reduced rate occurs due to the assumption that no further development will occur on Cumberland Island.
Terri Keller – Camden citizen
Ms. Keller voiced her concerns that granting a variance request is aligned to the Camden Spaceport’s agenda. Ms. Keller affirms that the launching from Spaceport threatens residents on Harriett’s Bluff and areas of Cumberland Island, and Kings Bay Naval Base citing that these areas are in a harmful danger zone. Ms. Keller would like for citizens to know there are other unused spaceports in other parts of the country costing their towns and states money that is not available. Also, Ms. Keller states that some government officials are willing to look the other way despite the fact that the spaceport here is obviously a very bad idea. “We need to stop the spaceport from damaging our beloved Cumberland Island.” Keller urged the commissioners not to waste tax dollars on the Spaceport which threatens Cumberland.
Janice Heath and Steve Winkle– Camden Residents
Citizens, such as Janice Heath and Steve Winkle, also asked the County Commission to protect Cumberland Island from over development and to make a commitment to the citizens of Camden County to protect the island by not allowing any further housing development. Janice Heath asked the commissioners to review the process of the appointed planning commission’s decisions to the variances in zoning. She also recommended that the commissioners should be voting on this issue and should not have allowed the recent transfer of power of allowing for variances to appointees. She further asked for the commissioners to reassume this power from the planning commission.
Winkle also expressed that he believes the County thinks they have “no choice” but to honor a hardship variance to the property owners because they would be violating private property rights. However, Mr. Winkle affirms that Camden County has ordinances that restrict private property owners about subdividing their property. Winkle states that Lumar, back in 2008, “had a chance to impact the law before it was put in place and that saying that the county has no choice but to uphold property rights is misleading” as various court jurisdictions and judicial precedent have upheld such restrictions on property rights.
Other residents and visitors expressed similar concerns – A resident from Wayne County, GA came to express their concerns and opposition to the variance and expressed their enjoyment of visiting Cumberland Island and wanted the Commissioners to “vote for the good of the public.” Other residents and citizens expressed that they did not want to see Cumberland further developed and to affirm that “nobody wants to lose our jewel” and advocated for the use of eminent domain by the Commissioners to buy the land from Lumar, LLC in order to preserve the island.