The Savannah City Council discussed and passed a hot button zoning issue today at the last council meeting for the month of June.
The amendment, made by Harold B. Yellin, agent for Northpoint Hospitality Inc., requested to amend the height map of the Historic District to modify the height zones in the northeastern quadrant, which includes 165 feet of space on the Savannah River and 45 feet above Bay Street. The four-acre plot of land has been proposed as the future home to two hotels, a parking deck offering 500 spaces, a variety of small shops and an area of green space designated as a “pocket park.” The project is estimated at costing roughly $85 million.
Patrick Shay, president of Gunn, Meyerhoff, and Shay Architects, stated that one of the goals of the project was to “have a beautiful building that fits the Historic District standards to end the view of River Street.”
The final building seen heading northeast on River Street is the Savannah Riverfront Marriott, which sits comfortably outside of both the National Historic District and city Historic District limits. Standing at approximately 108 feet, the Savannah Riverfront Marriott was not held to the same standards that must be abided by developers of the Historic District.
“This hotel would not be as high as the Marriott,” Shay stated to further explain the amendment. “The riverfront was crowded with large-scale buildings in the old days.”
“I’m committed to economic development,” said Mary Osborne, vice-chairman of council and representative of District 2. “It’s not obstructing the ugly side of the Marriott. Who else is going to come in and purchase this parcel of land? I am very supportive of this amendment.”
Osborne’s support was not mirrored by a number of Savannah residents, business owners and members of the Historic Savannah Foundation, however. Many attended today’s public hearing to oppose the amendment and express their concern.
Daniel Carey, president and CEO of the Historic Savannah Foundation, approached the podium to voice the opinion of foundation members.”We oppose changing the height map to meet the needs of one developer. Profitable hotels can be built which maintain the height requirement. What are we trading in for short-term gratification?”
The proposed plans show an array of buildings located on both sides of the river walk with the current view of the river entirely blocked out, save for a few narrow passages located between the buildings. Besides the obvious visual changes that would accompany the plans, it would create needed jobs for the almost 25 percent of Savannahians who are out of work.
“I would be very safe in telling you that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would be created,” said Shay.
Between an unreliable economy and the promise of future available positions for students, it is difficult to say whether the development would be a part of the cure or the disease. Savannah’s already crowded Historic District may not be able to afford a gamble with stakes as high as they are, but with an approval margin of 6-2, it seems that the city council is prepared to lay its cards on the table.
Contact Shannon Craig.