Private Property Zoning on
Cumberland Island is a place of legend. Its tidal marshes, undeveloped beaches and dunes, and lush maritime forests make it one of America's most spectacular and memorable barrier islands. Its protection remains one of the Georgia Conservancy's top priorities.
This winter, a private landowner, Lumar LLC, was granted a variance by Camden County Planning Commission to divide an 87.51-acre tract of private property on Cumberland Island into 10 parcels. The approval of the variance is currently under appeal by several environmental groups. This variance was required because the lots will front an unpaved road, Cumberland Island’s Main Road, instead of a paved road. The tract is just north of Cumberland Island National Seashore’s Sea Camp and spans the east-west width of the island from beach to marsh. This area of private landholding has never been owned by the National Park Service during the more than for 40-year history of the National Seashore.
Camden County zoning regulations currently regulate the land use activities of this tract and of other private holdings on Cumberland Island. The Lumar LLC tract is currently zoned by the county as a Conservation Preservation District, which carries a number of restrictions regarding how the property owner can use the land, including a prohibition of the installation or construction of any residential structure. Thus the site will also require rezoning to allow for single family homes. Ten homes on this narrow parcel is well beyond the scope of any development on Cumberland in the last 75 years. It is also completely out of context of the conservation planning that has sought to maintain ecological connectivity and a uniquely unspoiled visitor experience on the island.
The Purpose Statement for Cumberland Island National Seashore states: “Cumberland Island National Seashore maintains the primitive, undeveloped character of one of the largest and most ecologically diverse barrier islands on the Atlantic coast, while preserving scenic, scientific, and historical values and providing outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation and solitude.”
We urge the Camden County Board of Commissioners to enforce the intent of current zoning regulations as they pertain to Conservation Preservation Districts so as to ensure that private residential structures will not be permitted in such districts on Cumberland Island.
This current issue is a reminder to all that the work to fully realize the purpose of Cumberland Island National Seashore is not complete, even 45 years after its establishment by the National Park Service.
It is vital that the Camden County Board of Commissioners, the National Park Service, private landowners on Cumberland Island and the greater conservation community in Georgia work in concert to forward the vision and stated purpose of Cumberland Island National Seashore as a primitive island accessible to the general public for education, relaxation and passive recreation. This collaborative effort will need to build trust by respecting private property rights, yet be tempered by the need to continue the work that has protected this wonderful island so well.