State panel denies permit for construction at Tybee's Battery Backus
Located in the Fort Screven National Historic District, Battery Backus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lou Kietzman bought the battery in 2007 for $1 million. His attempt last year to sell the beach-front property for $2.1 million landed it on the 2009 list of "10 Places in Peril" compiled by the Georgia Trust.
On Friday, the five-member Shore Protection Committee voted unanimously to deny the permit for construction in what's considered the "dynamic dune area" under the Shore Protection Act.
"The battery is an indispensable part of the sand dune system," said Lesley Mattingly, a committee member.
Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust and a former head of the Historic Savannah Foundation, said that criticism spoke to the trust's best argument: Any construction would require penetration through the battery and would have a negative effect on the dune.
"We're delighted in the ruling and think it's very important that people consider that environmental and historic conservation are sometimes inextricably linked," he said.
Mattingly also noted she was concerned with the disruption to a historical property "to the degree to which the committee can enter into it." The Shore Protection Committee, which also operates as the Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee, isn't charged directly with protecting historical structures but was advised to take into consideration the Heritage Preservation Act.
Battery Backus was one of the seven powerful gun emplacements that gave Fort Screven its firepower. Construction on the fortifications began as the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 and continued into the early 1900s.
Tybee residents Jamie Maury, Dan Snyder and Director of the Fort Screven Preservation Organization, Ed Cawley, all of whom live near Battery Backus, spoke against the development at Friday's meeting in Midway. So did Cullen Chambers, executive director of the Tybee Island Historical Society.
Afterwards, they seemed astonished their pleas had been heeded by the panel.
"I can't believe it," Chambers said. "This is a victory for historic preservation not only on Tybee but all of coastal Georgia."
"They did their watchdog work," Maury said.
Kietzman said he plans to appeal the decision.