Plans presented at Tuesday’s Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting for a 70-unit apartment complex on Savannah’s eastside were met with strong resistance from members of the community, who raised issues of on-street parking and the building’s overall design, which they believe to be out of character with the surrounding neighborhoods.
The proposed complex at 1020 E. Broad St. sits on the border of the Victorian and Eastside neighborhoods and was rezoned in September. At that time the mayor and aldermen approved the rezoning with the condition that the visual compatibility standards of the adjacent Victorian District be used in the review process.
“We were very concerned that we didn’t want a building that was very suburban in nature and that would perhaps look like it belonged on the southside of Savannah,” said MPC staff member Charlotte Moore.
MPC staff said they found the development to be visually compatible with the area, but the public disagreed.
“The needs and the quality of life of the people and businesses that are already there must trump development for the sheer sake of development,” said area resident Robin Noll,
“... There is no visual compatibility to anything north, east, west or south of it. That does not look like Victorian townhomes, I’m sorry. It looks like a prison. This thing on the end looks like a guard tower.”
The three-story U-shaped building is about 27,500 square feet and varies in length from 75 to 197 feet along the sides. The corner portion of the building Noll and other residents described as looking like a guard tower would sit at the corner of East Broad Street and East Park Avenue and feature two upper floor balconies and an overhanging roof.
“Those of us who purchased homes in the Victorian District want to maintain the stylistic character and architecture of the neighborhood... If you lived in the Victorian neighborhood, would you agree that it’s compatible with your neighborhood?,” neighborhood association president Michael Ambrose said in addressing the commission. He also said the developer had not met with the neighborhood association to address concerns.
Also speaking in opposition was Historic Savannah Foundation president Daniel Carey, who said the building’s mass and hurried development were problematic.
“(The developer) was directed in September by City Council to work with the neighborhood and Historic Savannah Foundation, and they have not,” Carey said.
The historic foundation has a vested interest in the area due to a property on Bolton Street that’s under contract through the foundation’s revolving fund, he said.
“They haven’t reached out to us, not sought review or input from our architectural review committee... We’d like to see the neighborhood character maintained.”
Residents and business owners in the area were also concerned about the impact on parking on the already narrow and one-way streets in the area.
While the complex features gated off-street parking, residents are concerned that future residents would park on the already crowded streets to avoid paying a fee for a reserved space.
Many of them cited numerous wrecks, nearby school crossings and already limited visibility as reasons for their concerns.
Despite the public opposition the commission voted to approve the plan, but developers will have to return at a later date with a specific site plan.
Attorney, John Northup, who spoke on behalf of the applicant, Savannah-based GW Investments, said they had held several meeting with neighborhood associations, including the eastside neighborhood, which they felt was the most relevant group given the site location.
“Currently, this property is a vacant lot with a dilapidated building on it... I think a lot of the people in the neighborhood are benefiting from the fact that there is a vacant lot across the street,” Northup said.
The site plans to have 70 off-street parking spaces, he said, and while they don’t anticipate residents parking on the street, it’s something they ultimately can’t control.
Northup also said the developers had been working on the plans for about 15 months, refuting the claim that they were in a hurry.
“It’s not a Disney-fied version of the Victorian District townhomes. It’s a modern interpretation of it, but it draws on inspiration from what’s currently there,” he said.
“... We’ve had to comply with Victorian district visual compatibility guidelines and we’re not in the Victorian District, but we agreed and subjected ourselves to that and staff has said that we’re compliant with those guidelines and we don’t really know what else we can do.”