Save Paradise: Groups Challenge Proposed Cumberland Island Development

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Conservation groups filed an appeal today of the Camden County Planning Commission’s decision to grant a hardship variance for a proposed development on Cumberland Island that allows developers to build a ten-lot subdivision adjacent to the national seashore visitor center and main beach access.

On behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and St. Marys EarthKeepers, the Southern Environmental Law Center is challenging the Planning Commission’s approval of the variance requested by Lumar, LLC to subdivide an 87-acre tract into ten lots for private home construction, charging that Lumar’s application fails to meet the standards necessary for granting a hardship variance.

Public outcry over the county’s variance approval has come from coastal residents and citizens all over the country. Over 780 individuals submitted comments to the Planning Commission opposing the variance, and close to 10,000 other individuals have voiced concerns through online petitions.

Lumar’s property borders the northern edge of the National Park Service’s Sea Camp campground, and is directly adjacent to one of the most popular visitor destinations in the park, which features a ferry landing, visitor center and campground. If the proposed subdivision were allowed, structures could be built within full view of the marsh, the beach, the main road and the parallel trail.

“Cumberland Island is truly the crown jewel of Georgia’s barrier island system, and consequently should not be treated like any other run-of-the-mill property,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney, Bill Sapp. “We would welcome the opportunity to work with all parties at the table to seek a long-term solution, with the goal of protecting the natural beauty and historic character for which the Cumberland Island National Seashore is known and beloved.”

Members of Lumar, LLC, include several island residents who already have homes on Cumberland Island. Lumar’s property is an inholding within the legislated boundaries of the Cumberland Island National Seashore and is zoned under the Conservation Preservation (CP) classification. According to the Camden County Development Code, the purpose of this zoning district is “to discourage encroachment of uses capable of destroying the undeveloped character of the CP district.”

Cumberland Island is a global biosphere reserve which shelters several endangered species, including five species of endangered sea turtles. The island attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, making the island economically as well as ecologically important.

“Georgians want to see Cumberland Island’s wild, natural state protected, and are concerned that this variance would lead to a substantial detriment to that natural state,” said Alex Kearns of St. Marys EarthKeepers. “If this hardship variance was to stand, it could set a bad precedent in encouraging future development on this iconic island.”

As Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, Cumberland Island is home to pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches and extensive salt marshes. Cumberland Island has remained largely protected from new residential development as a result of its designation as a National Seashore.

“The Cumberland Island National Seashore is a treasured component of our national park system,” said Don Barger, Southeast Regional Director of the National Park Conservation Association. “It is vital that we do all we can to preserve the natural and historic elements of this rare and idyllic place for current and future generations.”

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