New Rules Could Allow Building Closer To Dunes On St. Simons

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Leaders on one of Georgia's most popular coastal islands are considering letting developers build closer to sand dunes.

The Brunswick News reports that a planning commission that governs construction on St. Simons Island is discussing reducing the required setback for new construction in areas with active dunes from 40 feet (12.2 meters) to 25 feet (7.6 meters). The new rule would increase the required setback from 20 feet to 25 feet for an area without dunes.

Commissioners agreed Tuesday to postpone action until November to allow time for a public workshop. The idea originated from a planning commission meeting with Glynn County commissioners to discuss growth on the island.

Glynn County Commissioner Cap Fendig said the proposed changes would match Georgia Department of Natural Resources rules. Current Glynn County rules are more restrictive.

Dunes can protect beaches and inland areas and also provide habitat for plants and wildlife. Alice Keyes of the environmental group One Hundred Miles said rising sea levels make setbacks even more important.

“From a practical standpoint, from a public safety standpoint and from a scientific standpoint I cannot recommend it as being a wise vision,” Keyes said. “We should be increasing, not decreasing setbacks so they can continue to serve their function.”

Commissioners also considered a proposal to limit new buildings on St. Simons Island to a height of 35 feet (10.7 meters)

Fendig said many people oppose dense development on the island.

“Are we going to take this opportunity to consider how to restrain density?” he asked.

Fendig said more than 500 home sites await construction on St. Simons, which would worsen traffic congestion if developed.

“This is our opportunity to say good is good, but we don’t want more,” he said.

That decision was also deferred to November after public input.

“This is the beginning of a conversation we need to have,” Fendig said. “The future of our island is in your hands to work this ordinance through to the right balance.”