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4 lots cut from Johnny Harris development

Subheadline: 
Planning commission would have to approve any site changes

ARS Ventures LLC, the firm behind the commercial redevelopment of the property that includes the Johnny Harris restaurant on Victory Drive, has dissolved contracts with home owners along the southern part of Dixie Avenue, the Savannah Morning News has learned.
 
“With much disappointment, we are sorry to inform you, that we will have no interest in the purchase of the above mentioned property,” the email from ARS reads. The letter also requests that the full amount of Earnest money be returned to the purchaser.
 
One home owner confirmed he received the e-mail on April 14 and later received a hardcopy, as did three of his neighbors, but declined to comment further. Efforts to reach the other home owners were unsuccessful.
The letter, which is signed by George E. Chase Jr. of ARS ends by saying that the contract is no longer in effect and is void.
 
The general site plan for the 115,000-square-foot development known as the Shoppes of Wicklow Farms was approved by the Metropolitan Planning Commission in February, but if the footprint or layout of development plan changes, it would have to be submitted to the planning commission again, according to executive director Tom Thomson.
 
The plan showed six retail parcels; three smaller detached units along Victory Drive and three connected units along the back of the site that borders Kerry Street, which would have utilized the lots that have been dissolved. The plan as it was approved in February couldn’t move forward with the same layout without those lots.
 
As of Thursday, Thomson said, he had not received new plans for the development.
 
Savannah attorney Robert McCorkle, who has represented Atlanta-based ARS through the process, said he had no comment on the matter when reached last week.
 
Nick Palumbo, organizer of the Preserve Savannah Facebook page, and other members of the community met with ARS representatives to discuss their concerns and ideas for the development last Thursday, the same day the letter was emailed to the homeowners.
 
Palumbo said issues of reorienting the buildings and saving some of the trees were discussed, but the issue of lots possibly being cut from the plan never came up.
 
“I felt like it was positive and productive dialogue, and each side brought up some good points,” he said.
 
After leaving the meeting, he said, he felt as if the two groups reached a better understanding, but was disappointed later to learn about the notices sent to the owners.
 
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. McCorkle has elected not to be forthcoming with the community in light of these new developments,” Palumbo said.
 
“Community input and buy-in generates a win-win for both developers and citizens. While he has every right to do so, I do not think there’s anything to be gained by keeping the community in the dark.”
 
The proposed development has generated months of public outcry over the size of the 11-acre development and because the developers planned to demolish the restaurant although the owners of Johnny Harris stated in January that they would demolish the building even if the current deal with ARS fell through.
 
When reached last week, Norman Heidt, president of the restaurant, said that their plans to develop the restaurant property and surrounding grounds were still on schedule.

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