Posted By Allison VanderVeer @ Feb 28th 2018 11:30am In: Life on St Simons

Remember the fantasy flick Never Ending Story from the mid 1980's? A bullied boy retreats into the fantasy of a magical book telling the story of a magical land in need of a hero to save it. Just maybe we're that magical land of Fantasia, in need of heroes to save us -- mostly from ourselves.

If you venture down the sand trail leading to the ocean at Eighth Street on East Beach you'll encounter our very own 'Swamp of Sadness'. It seems as though a fierce monster ripped through the accreted lands eastward of the beachfront most lots, and snarled its way towards the primary dune slashing both giant pine and sturdy live oak and all under story indiscriminately. These things tend to happen on weekends and during holidays when, it seems, authorities aren't looking. In an earlier day, back in the 70's when Abe Glover, Bill and Martha Martin, Buddy and Mary Capella and other vigilant, stalwart East Beachers were around, it would never have happened -- the wholesale, indiscriminate destruction of flora in a maritime forest. It's a disgrace, and in my opinion, an irresponsible action of greed; all in the name of what: gaining a view to which we may not have a right?

My disclaimer is that I really don't know what went down; I bet eventually we'll know. But it appears that the house (without a view and wanting one), a house that was built in the mid 90's, is on the market and needed to be worth more dough! And, according to info I found on our MLS, one of the drone shot photos shows this residence with a small area cleared behind it, seemingly taken before this past weekend's activity, and declares in the wording accompanying the pic, " A drone shot of the front of this amazing home.. you can see the ocean through a lovely path... the owners have been given the right to maintain and top the trees and pass to new owners."

I'm not sure precisely what that means; it sounds like the owner of the seaward, more recently platted lot (I think much more recently platted than when East Beach was platted and recorded) got a good deal if the house owners behind him paid for that work. Interesting. I feel I, personally, would have a difficult time, in good conscience, explaining to a potential buyer that this is a view I could depend upon. As one who loves East Beach, I think it's tragic.

Remember I said this. The accreted lands of East Beach are, have been and will always be under intense pressure for development. In the late 1970’s, a landmark legal case determined that the lands eastward of the eastern-most platted road (never opened, never developed, but platted) cannot be developed. Reid Harris, longtime local attorney, Emory educated, a servant in the state House of Representatives, author of Georgia's Coastal Marshlands Protection Act and champion for protection of built up lands on East Beach, teamed with the state Attorney General's office to FINALLY determine that those lands cannot be developed. In fact, Mr. Harris told me one time that 'no development' means neither vertically nor horizontally. For me, that means no houses, no road improvements, no parking pads, no concession stands, no signage, no nothing. Nope, I'm not a lawyer, just a lay person involved in East Beach since the late 1970's. The crux of it all is money; IF all those lands, that didn't exist in the earlier part of the 20th century, could be platted into lots and built upon, it'd be worth a very large coin. You can't blame the descendants of East Beach founders for pursuing that possibility, but the law of the land prevailed years ago. If you give away some of your rights to develop the land, then you may not so do. One must have 'all the rights of ownership' in order to develop a property. That's it in a nutshell, and that's the decision that the courts found back just before my arrival here; that the developers of East Beach gave away some of those rights years ago.

Details of the issues with pressure on lands of accretion are beyond the scope of my knowledge and writing. That's for others, perhaps 'The News' or a local historian. What I know is that those are fragile lands. They protect wildlife and coastal plant species and are important to protection of both flora and fauna diversity. The dune structure anchored by those magnificent oaks, hearty pines, wax myrtle and such, protect the homes and residents of east beach from storms and rising waters.

Could this be an attempt to slowly creep development into an area not to be developed? Even if this 'topping of trees' is legal, it seems someone on a piece of mechanized equipment got carried away and thrust some destruction almost to the primary dune. Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember that if you have rights to shore front property, you may not impact the toe of the secondary dune line. I don't think I'm mistaken about this.

A comment on tree ordinance. Here's a thought. Since so many of tree issues are partially a product of relatively small lots, and since we have many subdivisions with no provision for tree / landscape protection, could it make sense for Glynn County to regulate trees in its rights of ways and in the setback areas of the building sites? If we go to the trouble to keep trees with in the minimum building line setbacks -- areas of the lot we cannot build in anyway, wouldn't we save a lot more of our treescape? Cutting in these areas could be for review and approval, at least, helping us all to think carefully about that which we destroy. I've always thought that more lot lines mean more setback area, and thus less buildable footprint. And, therefore, more trees protected.

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