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Save The Spit on Sea Island
The continuing Sea Island, Georgia saga is really sad. From its founding as a resort by Howard Coffin in 1928 until its hosting of the G8 Summit in 2004, the Cloister on Sea Island was a staid lady, surrounded by growing coterie of cottages and summer houses. Then, perhaps because notoriety went to their heads, the Joneses went on an expansion binge, tore down the dowager and rebuilt the facilities while adding a gigantic spa.
There is something peculiar about people building swimming pools at the edge of the ocean. But that's beside the point.

If notoriety was what the Joneses were after, they soon got it, in spades. All the improvements, on borrowed dollars, were hardly done when the economy collapsed.
Bloomberg, in describing the aftermath, has the whole story.

Sea Island, on the southeast coast of Georgia just north of the Florida border, began as a small hotel built in 1928 by automobile executive and engineer Howard Coffin. Today, the Cloister Hotel features villas with ocean views and a spa that is larger than an American football field.

Sea Island was the site of the Group of Eight Summit in 2004 that brought then-President George W. Bush and dignitaries including Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to the resort.

In August 2010, Sea Island Co. filed for bankruptcy and was sold that year to Oaktree Capital Management LP, Avenue Capital Group, Anschutz Corp. and Starwood Capital Group for $212.4 million, according to court documents.

They buyers got a bargain. Sea Island Acquisitions, the successor corporation has a portfolio of about 156 parcels, many of which it is busy selling off in pieces. That's been going on for over three years. As I reported back in 2010 on Hannah Blog
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) – The St. Simons Land Trust says it’s signed a contract to acquire a 2.3 acre tract that was once home to the Sea Island Stables.

Land Trust executive director Russ Marane says the trust will pay $2.6 million to acquire the site.

Marane says the trust will spend $150,000 on such projects as pruning trees, installing an irrigation system and general claeanup.

Marane says many people remember when Sea Island’s stables occupied the space, horses trotted around the fenced yard and chickens roamed freely. He says the area’s natural character will be maintained.

The trust has been involved in preserving about 265 acres on the heavily developed island.

“Heavily developed” my eye! The island, about the same size as Manhattan, has a year-round population of about 13,000. Paying over a million dollars an acre is a marketing ploy to make other land seem more valuable than it is.
Turns out we didn't see the last of the stables, after all. The commercial enterprise just moved to another spot, but the horses still "enjoy" the old familiar trails and leave their familiarturdson the spit of land the next big hurricane is destined to wash away.

Pretty much everyone agrees that's it's fate. Of course, it's been about a hundred years since the Bight of Georgia has taken a direct hit. The Gulf Stream tends to transport hurricanes rather farther out to sea and slam them into the Carolina Coast.

Thing is, Sea Island Acquisitions isn't entirely to blame. The six acre plot they are wanting to divide into eight residential lots were approved for commercial use by the County back in 2004. And the County appraiser has helpfully appraised them at almost two million dollars for which the tax collector sends an annual two thousand dollar bill. Meanwhile, the other two hundred acres on the spit are appraised at ten thousand and pay less than a hundred dollars in taxes. It's not always the property owners that are running a scam. Which is not to say Sea Island Acquisitions is innocent.

At a recent hearing before the Island Planning Commission, duly reported by the Georgia Times Union, where any number of citizens objected to the proposed partitioning into residential lots, James Gilbert, the new Sea Island representative, explained:

potential buyers would be well aware of the risks and would have to purchase flood insurance privately since the low-lying land is not eligible for the federal FEMA subsidy.

“Potential buyers would know how fragile this is,” he said. “These people to whom these lots would be marketed are far more sophisticated than I about their money.”

“With these eight lots, it’s going to be buyer beware,” commission Chairman John Dow said.

Gilbert said that objections raised during the meeting, which also included concerns that the development would overload St. Simons Island’s wastewater treatment plant, do not fall within the purview of the commission.

“These are issues to be raised in different forums,” he said, suggesting that opponents take the company to court to get a hearing on their concerns.

Ah, yes, "hie thee to the courts." Lawyers love the courts. It's where they get paid whether they win or lose.

And, it is probably quite correct that, having issued development permits, the County can't now take them away. Besides, as Justice Anthony Kennedy likes to say, "the issuance of a permit is not a matter of grace." It's based on the presumption that the activity being permitted is inherently good, even when it's not. The County shouldn't have granted the zoning designation back in 2004, but look at the difference it made to their income stream.

There's a pattern. Up at the north end of Sea Island, some dufus in Connecticut paid $4.8 million for less than an acre lot, and eleven thousand for a dock, for the privilege of sending Glynn County fifteen thousand a year. One is tempted to call it the South's revenge, but northerners are not the only ones being scammed. There's also a  fellow in Nashville, Tennessee who bought a similar lot for $3.3 million in 2013 and probably thought he got a good deal because the owner before him had paid $4 million in 2005. Now the appraiser says it's worth $1.3 million and taxes him on a little over five hundred thousand -- still a good deal since the County provides no services. (The 2010 census tells us that one third of all single family residences were empty, but not for sale. Presumably, that wasn't because the owners were gone for the day at work. Homeless people and peopleless homes!)

Perhaps what Gilbert means when he says the buyers are "sophisticated" is that they're suckers.

One is tempted to conclude that the elites of our ownership society deserve what they get in their exclusive gilded cages.  But, in the meantime, it's all God's creatures that lose. And for what? A few more bucks which, if the Congress weren't so penurious would be in plentiful supply.

Originally posted to hannah on Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 05:05 AM PST.

Also republished by Backyard Science.

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