Rep. Spencer Issues Statement on Rezoning of Cumberland Island
ATLANTA – State Representative Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) today issued the following statement on the Board of County Commissioners of Camden County’s recent deliberations to rezone 1,000 acres of land on Cumberland Island for residential development:
“Cumberland Island is a coastal treasure that is without a doubt coveted by many across the United States and the State of Georgia. One thing that makes Cumberland so great is that it is left in its natural state untouched by development, for the most part. Also, many people in our great state hold dear our Constitutional rights, especially the right to use our own property how we see fit in a reasonable way that does not infringe upon the rights of our neighbors.
“The Camden County Board of Commissioners will decide whether or not to approve a ‘hardship variance’ for property owners on Cumberland Island for residential development for their heirs. Naturally, this has many in the community concerned; however, the property owners are allowed a reasonable use of their property under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment as well as the Georgia Constitution’s due process clause.
“I have been asked to have the state intervene in this matter, but I have stated repeatedly that the State of Georgia has no substantive role in deciding zoning issues. This issue is a local zoning matter that falls under the decision of the Camden County Commission pursuant to their constitutional authority in the Georgia Constitution. The county commission has the authority under the Georgia Constitution to make substantive changes to zoning regulations and ordinances.
“See Article IX, Section II, Paragraph IV: ‘The governing authority of each county and of each municipality may adopt plans and may exercise the power of zoning. This authorization shall not prohibit the General Assembly from enacting general laws establishing procedures for the exercise of such power.’
“The General Assembly has written laws establishing such procedures. We have written the Zoning Procedures Act O.C.G.A 36-66-1 through 36-66-6, which are the procedural laws that must be followed when a county or city writes a zoning policy. The Constitution does not allow the state to make SUBSTANTIVE changes or allow us to inject ourselves into POLICY changes in zoning laws with local legislation, only PROCEDURAL laws. Doing so would be a violation of the State Constitution’s Home Rule provisions.
“Also, the only other policy the state would have a say in is how the developments, if approved, would encroach on the shore line or on the adjacent marsh lands, which would be state property. The state already has spoken on this matter through writing the Shore Protection Act and the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act of 1970. Those state laws govern any permitting process when these areas are affected, because those areas are within state jurisdiction. On matters of zoning, that is strictly a power authorized by the county commission, not the State of Georgia. Therefore, I have advised citizens who have concerns to take their grievances to the Camden County Commissioners to weigh and balance the property rights of owners and the public interest. However, I will say that if the property owners are denied a reasonable use of their property, then the county could be sued for violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and subject themselves to a takings claim under the Georgia Constitution. That could be a costly fight for the tax payers; therefore, denying a reasonable use of private property will be considered a takings. Please consider these legal issues as you advocate one way or another for your position.
“If you have concerns, please contact your county commissioner, which is the proper venue to address your grievance. Also, please refer to the ‘Variance Fact Sheet’ for more information.
“Despite what has been posted in the media, the Board of County Commissioners will not be taking action on the Cumberland Island issue until sometime after June 1st.
“Variance Fact Sheet:
- When the National Seashore was established in the 1970’s, a number of fee-simple ownership tracts were left in place. Numerous properties were held in a retained rights ownership model which will transfer to the Park Service at some point in time.
- The enabling legislation establishing the national seashore bans any bridges or causeways to the island.
- The 88 acre LUMAR property was purchased in 1998.
- This parcel owned by LUMAR is fee-simple and is not part of the National Park and is not a retained right property. The park officials have verified that their jurisdiction does not include this parcel. So this parcel by law has the same rights as any other property in the unincorporated area of the county.
- Cumberland Island was exempt from zoning by county ordinance from 1992-2002.
- The property was assigned CP zoning after 2002.
- The owner/applicant requested to subdivide the property for their heirs. The UDC requires this type of minor plat to have frontage on a paved (public or private) street; 501(b)(3)(a) ‘Each lot shall front on an existing paved public or existing paved private road.’ Other properties within the county have been granted a variance from this requirement.
- There are no paved roads on Cumberland. Therefore, there is no other method the property owner can use to divide the property other than a Hardship Variance.
- The owner/applicant made an application for a Hardship Variance that was approved by the Planning Commission on December 7, 2016.
- Variance approvals provide an ‘aggrieved party’ the opportunity to appeal the PC decision to the BOC.
- Two appeals have been filed and will be heard before the BOC.
- The property owner/applicants LUMAR and the lead appellant(s) represented by Southern Environmental Law Center independently requested a period of time to negotiate terms for a joint resolution.
- The appeal was administratively ‘tabled’ in order to allow for the negotiations and is still pending resolution by negotiated agreement or by full hearing of the BOC.
- There are still large parcels of fee simple property on Cumberland Island. A possible solution is to create a new zoning district so that future variances and appeals will not be necessary for each parcel on a case-by-case basis.
- The parties met March 22 with the County and National Park Service at which time options were discussed regarding potential zoning ordinance amendment to specifically address the unique nature of fee simple properties (approximately 1,000 acres) remaining within the boundaries of the Cumberland Island National Seashore, but not within the jurisdiction of the Park Service. These 1,000 acres are less than 3 percent of the island.
- If no resolution is accomplished by June 1, 2017, the County will go forward with a hearing on the Variance as originally granted.
- If the parties are able to agree on a draft ordinance by June 1, 2017, it is anticipated that LUMAR will withdraw its petition for a variance which will negate the need for an appeal hearing. The draft ordinance will then be reviewed for approval by public hearing in front of the Planning Commission and the BOC.”
Representative Jason Spencer represents the citizens of District 180, which includes Camden, Charlton, and Ware counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010, and currently serves as the Secretary of the Special Rules Committee. He also serves on the Game Fish & Parks, Human Relations & Aging, Juvenile Justice, and Science & Technology committees.