Complaint cites concerns about land development that could price out the last intact Gullah Geechee community in Georgia
SAPELO ISLAND, Ga. — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in partnership with Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP, filed an appeal in the Superior Court of McIntosh County on behalf of residents of Hogg Hummock, citing an unlawful zoning amendment that violates state law and the constitutional rights to due process and equal protection as stipulated by both the state of Georgia and U.S. Constitutions.
“Our community continues to be threatened by a relentless set of tactics that ignore the dignity and respect of our place on this land,” said Yvonne Grovner, a long-time resident of Sapelo Island. “Our ancestors had so much stripped away from them and this land is a connection to their intention of having the Gullah-Geechee language and culture preserved for future. If property taxes are significantly increased, then many of us will not be able to afford our homes and sadly those traditions may be lost forever.”
The McIntosh County Board of Commissioners (MCBC) announced revisions to the proposed amendments advanced by the Planning and Zoning Commission after its Sept. 7, 2023, business meeting. The twice-revised zoning amendment increased the maximum for Hogg Hummock homes from 1,400 heated/cooled square feet to 3,000 square feet under one roof, more than doubling the allowable size. Individuals will be able to build larger homes on the Island, encouraging development that will increase property valuations and taxes, creating a disproportionate impact on Plaintiffs and making future building on the land inconsistent with the current character and infrastructure of Hogg Hummock.
“There were a number of failures on the part of the McIntosh County Board of Commissioners. This complaint is about recognizing the needs of the descendants that reside on Sapelo Island,” said Miriam Gutman, SPLC attorney and legal representative for the plaintiffs. “The previous hearing that took place did little to accommodate the voices of Hogg Hummock and their input regarding rezoning and the harmful impact that it could have on the historical and cultural integrity of the land.”
In August, SPLC sent a demand letter to the MCBC expressing concern about the Board’s discriminatory policies over proposed zoning hearing and meetings related to Hogg Hummock and their violation of Georgia’s Open Meeting Law, zoning procedures and McIntosh County’s civil rights obligations.
Hogg Hummock has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many of the Plaintiffs plan on passing their land along to their children. For several of the plaintiffs, their land has been in their families for generations.
In 1994, the McIntosh Code of Ordinances created the Hogg Hammock Historic District to allow continued use and activities of the community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island and to recognize the community’s unique needs in regard to its historic resources, traditional patterns of development, threat from land speculators and housing forms.