In its last meeting of the year Wednesday, which lasted more than six hours, the Historic Review Board signed off on a number of major projects in downtown Savannah, including height and mass of two new hotels.
The first petition heard by the board was height and mass of a proposed hotel at 600 E. Bay St. Located between Bay and River streets, the hotel will feature six stories along the Bay Street side and eight stories on the River Street side, which sits on a small bluff.
Patrick Shay of Gunn Meyerhoff Shay — the design firm for the project — filed the petition. Shay had submitted plans in 2013 for an adjacent hotel building, now the Homewood Suites, on the former Georgia Power Headquarters site, which recently opened.
The buildings are identical in height and separated by about 42 feet. The space between the buildings will include a rain garden, which will purify rain, and an adjacent urban garden, which Shay said could serve as an entrance to gain access to a rooftop bar.
Shay called the grounds an example of environmental excellence, adding that the design had embraced the spirit of being non-traditional in a way that is very 21st century.
“We’ve taken inspiration from a number of hotels that are from the same family of hotels all over the world... But I don’t want you to think this is an attempt to bring you a cookie-cutter contemporary hotel approach. This is a very one-of-a-kind response to a very unique site, and there’s not another one like it, so it is uniquely compatible and contemporary in spirt,” Shay told the board.
Wednesday’s meeting marked the second time Shay has presented the plans to the board. In April, Shay was granted a continuance to study the project along with almost a dozen staff recommendations to consider.
At that meeting the review board denied a request for the demolition of the Savannah Electric Power Co. (SEPCO) building on the site. Shay appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which reversed the historic board’s decision in May.
Wednesday’s approval came with a number of conditions that will be returned to the board when the design details are submitted.
Among the conditions, most of which Shay agreed with, were incorporating more windows on the east facade and areas that are highly visible from Bay and River streets; ensuring vertical dividers between balconies are transparent; and shielding any rooftop mechanical equipment that might be visible from the right-of-way.
New life on MLK
The board also got a look at proposed rehabilitation plans for nine buildings along the 300 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, including the Thrifty Supply Center, which operated for 60 years before closing in September.
Plans for the block — bounded by MLK, West Charlton and West Jones streets — include repairing cornices, restoring windows, adding new storefronts and uncovering original in-filled doors or windows on the buildings, most of which were built between 1905 and 1920.
In September, Lindsay Nevin — president of Flyway, a Charleston-based restoration, development and real estate company — confirmed that his company is handling the development. On Wednesday, the plans were presented by Christian Sottile of Sottile and Sottile, who called the property a key part of the effort to restore MLK Boulevard and Montgomery Street.
The board’s approval came with several recommended conditions, such as facade setbacks and possible relocation of electrical meters. There was little discussion, however, as the board and Historic Savannah Foundation representatives seemed pleased to see the restoration of an entire block.
“The historic character will be contained and preserved, and all of the proposed changes are based on physical evidence or historic photographs or are distinctly new. Therefore, none of the changes create a false sense of history,” said board staff member Ellen Harris.
Height approved for Montgomery Street hotel
The meeting ended much as it began, with the request for height and mass approval of a new hotel at 321 Montgomery St.
The proposed Cambria Hotel would feature six stories and be at the intersection of West Harris and Montgomery streets. The vacant site sits adjacent to another vacant lot to the south and the Pei Ling Chan Gallery owned by the Savannah College of Art and Design.
As presented, the building measured 81 feet high, which would make it the tallest building in the vicinity. Board staff recommended the overall floor-to-floor height and roof screening be reduced to make it more visually compatible.
Board members disagreed and omitted the recommendation that the height be reduced.
The board approved the height and mass with several conditions, including sidewalk provisions, providing public access to a proposed coffee shop, ensure wall heights do not exceed 11 feet and restudying the drop-off area and electric meters.
In other news
The board granted a seemingly unwanted continuance to Patrick Phelps of Hansen Architects over the design details of a proposed two-building hotel between Drayton Towers and Parker’s Market.
The decision came after a lot of back and forth between the board, Phelps and architect Paul Hansen. The board said that the design of the two buildings, while one is a hotel, needed to incorporate additional differentiation in detailing.
Staff also recommended that the overall height of the north building be reduced about 5 feet, more entrances be added along the east and north sides of the buildings and more entrances added along the east side of the southern building.
The owners of the Drayton Tower, Flank Inc., unveiled their plans to City Council on May 14 for the high-end boutique hotel that will include one level of underground parking beneath the south building. Height and mass approval for both buildings were granted in August pending several recommendations by the board.