The recently opened Homewood Suites Hotel at 611 E. River St. got a little ahead of itself when it installed 16 light fixtures on its rooftop pool deck without asking Savannah’s Historic Review Board for permission.
The board voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to deny the after-the-fact installation of the 20-foot-tall structures after neighbors complained about the lights, which are visible from Bay, River and East Broad streets.
The owners of the hotel, Atlanta-based North Point Hospitality Group, didn’t know they needed approval from the board, according to the lead architect, Patrick Shay of Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architecture.
The lights were installed after the owners learned about a Chatham County Health Department guideline for pool lighting, which states that any pool that permits night swimming must have adequate lighting to illuminate the entire pool area.
“(The guideline) is much more strict than it is in other jurisdictions, and that is why the specialized light consultant for this project did not plan for this from the very beginning. During construction it became apparent that the interpretation was going to have to be enforced,” Shay told the board on Wednesday.
“... I didn’t become aware of it until after the poles were already installed.”
Neighbors complained about the fixtures last fall, and they came to the hotel owner’s formal attention in October after a site inspection.
The only member of the public who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting was Danielle Meunier, representing the Historic Savannah Foundation, who agreed with staff that the lighting was not visually compatible and should be restudied.
Since the fall, board staff has been working with the hotel to determine an alternate solution since the health department doesn’t permit any variances in this situation.
Ellen Harris, director of the Historic Preservation and Urban Planning Department, presented several alternatives in her report to the board, including revising the existing trellis — which spans perpendicularly above a section of the raised pool — to incorporate some or all of the fixtures or redesign the height and placement of the fixtures.
“The height of the light fixtures could be reduced significantly, and the angle of the light sources themselves adjusted to provide the minimum required lighting,” Harris said, adding that the four north and south fixtures, which are the most visible and closest to the building’s facade may not even be needed because they aren’t providing significant lighting over the pool.
“What the owner and developer would prefer, of course, is that you find that because they’re required to do this by jurisdiction that is outside of yours, that they’re able to leave the light poles as they are,” Shay said.
“Failing that, we have convinced the owner and developer that there is probably a path forward with a hybrid solution that you heard today...”
The only alternative Shay said the owners weren’t willing to consider was removing the lighting completely and closing the pool at night.
He said raising the trellis height would be difficult, but that’s an alternative he’s willing to explore. However, the existing lighting would be reused in the new design.
“I don’t want to mislead you, it’s still going to be bright light. There’s no way to avoid that due to the health department requirement, but we would not have to have this forest of 20-foot high light poles that are around it,” he said.
“We think that we will probably still need to have two... But we do think we can position those toward the middle so that they are much less intrusive from the outside.”