CPI grapples with density in St. Simons | Local news


On Wednesday, the island planning commissioners returned to the issue of population density on the island of St. Simons.

The discussion took place during a working session that evening, during which the town planning commission examined a new limitation of the height of buildings proposed by the departmental commissioner Cap Fendig. The IPC discussed and adjourned the proposed ordinance at a meeting in September, and continued the debate on Wednesday.

An amendment to the ordinance that Fendig brought to the table would limit all buildings on St. Simons Island to 35 feet in height, excluding properties zoned residential and not located on Ocean Boulevard. The new bylaw would primarily affect properties in the southeast corner of the island and those in undeveloped communities at the north end.

Fendig attended the meeting and explained his reasoning: to put an end to the aggravation of traffic jams on island roads.

“If we don’t collectively propose density limitation, we won’t be the community we want to be and live. It’s just math. We can increase the water supply, we can increase the sewer supply, but we cannot increase the road supply, ”Fendig said.

The short-term rental market is boosting real estate and attracting more visitors to the island each year, worsening traffic and the quality of life for full-time residents, he explained.

The Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that St. Simons Island receives up to 15,000 out-of-town visitors each day during the summer, in addition to full-time residents and daily traffic from from the mainland, Fendig said.

“Short-term rentals are a driving force on the island. It is the engine of the market. It stimulates the domestic market… COVID has accelerated this, put the gas on it, ”said Fendig.

He showed photos of these rentals, one with five cars parked in the driveway and a collection of several large three-story buildings, all dedicated to vacation rental. Such sites are typical for short-term rentals on the island, he said.

IPC member Robert Ussery, architect at St. Simons-based Ussery Rule Architects, said it was clear the prospects for short-term rental income boosted real estate more than long-term residence. The construction market is driven by the desire to include as many bedrooms as possible in order to maximize a building’s use as a vacation rental, he said.

“They see it as an income generating property rather than a house,” Ussery said.

Most IPC members agreed the county should pass bylaws to slow density growth, but were skeptical that simply limiting building heights would do this.

Ussery suggested limiting the number of living floors to two in areas with a building height of 35 feet and three in areas with a building height of 45 feet.

That probably wouldn’t solve the problem, as builders would just build rather than mount, said IPC member Patrick Duncan.

However, not all were in favor of imposing additional construction restrictions.

Samantha DiPolito, a local lawyer, objected because it would do a disservice to people buying property hoping to be able to build to current standards.

IPC chairman Joel Willis, executive director of Epworth by the Sea, has said he would not be willing to place a height or living area restriction on planned developments, which are essentially approved custom areas. through the rezoning process.

“You have to think about private property rights, and I think in the village area there are some things we can do. I don’t think we can get into the other points of contention now, ”said Willis.

Island resident Julian Smith spoke during the public comment period, starting by saying that today’s St. Simons Island is not the one it was presented to decades ago. .

The increasing congestion is evident, but is only one symptom of the myriad of issues that are diminishing the quality of life on the island. The county will also have to deal with the problem of sea level rise in the future, he said.

“This is an example of what’s been going on for so long: rearranging the lounge chairs on the Titanic,” Smith said.

Preston Kirkendall, a former IPC member, agreed with Duncan that limiting building heights would only encourage homeowners to build. Construction will ultimately result in less green space, he said, leading to more drainage issues.

The IPC has limited time to present its own revised order, Senior Deputy County Attorney Will Worley told the committee. He suggested holding a public hearing on the revised version of the IPC at a meeting later this month and making a final recommendation in January.

Fendig said the county commission would be willing to accept a revised CPI order.

In other cases, the committee discussed a potential update to the Beach and Dune Protection Ordinance, reducing the legally required construction buffer zone around dunes.

IPC member Bryce Brock strongly supported the measure, saying the extra space on coastal lots will make a huge difference to residents.

Susan Inman, coastal advocate with local environmental interest group One Hundred Miles, spoke out against the proposed changes during a public comment period.

She said the coastal studies strongly argued against allowing construction closer to the water. Not only will this result in more frequent flooding of more structures during hurricanes and high tides, but any harsh features like dikes and bulkheads will disturb sediment and may lead to increased erosion.

Duncan and Brock, who have taken the lead on the beach and dune ordinance changes, have agreed to work on some changes to present to the public at the next IPC meeting later this month.

Finally, Ussery presented three subjects for reflection and discussion to the town planning commissioners: the regulation of parking for single-family homes, the capping of the number of bedrooms in dwellings and the strengthening of land use standards. .

The IPC will meet on December 14th.