A zoning and height conflict stalled the Savannah Historic District review board meeting on Wednesday for more than an hour — and also halted the construction of a proposed hotel at 607 Drayton St.
The board voted 6-2 to deny the proposed hotel as it was presented after much confusion about whether the building qualified for a bonus story that would make the structure five stories tall. The residential height map only allows a maximum of four stories.
According to Ellen Harris, director of Historic Preservation and Urban Planning, the now vacant lot is in a RIP-D zoning district, which allows for mixed uses. The project qualifies for the bonus story under the standards for commercial and other uses, but it does not qualify under residential standards.
Harris said she requested an interpretation from the zoning administrator on whether to apply commercial or residential standards and received an email stating that the bonus story would be permitted and be set against the commercial standards.
“This is not a zoning confirmation letter. I think that something that is so important as granting a bonus story is worthy of having an official determination from the zoning administrator and a little bit more than just a casual email between two colleagues,” said Martin Smith, who spoke on behalf of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Smith was one of five people, including representatives from the Historic Savannah Foundation, who spoke out against the height of the project. Three letters of opposition were also submitted to the board.
SCAD owns three neighboring buildings. Smith said the school wasn’t opposed to the hotel or development but wanted the zoning issue to be more thoroughly examined.
The petition originally went before the board last month but was continued at the request of the petitioner, Patrick Shay of Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architects.
Shay said he was unaware of the zoning issue until it was raised at the meeting and twice denied the board’s suggestion that he request a continuance of the petition to a future meeting.
“I had not heard that line of reasoning or any of this until 10 minutes ago,” Shay said responding to public comment. “... So the controversy, if that’s what it is over whether or not the zoning administrator has their job appropriately, is not something I have the ability to address here today...”
The revised plan reviewed Wednesday met all 15 of the conditions set forth by the board in May, including getting eliminating one story and eliminating a tower structure.
“I’m not in the position (to request a continuance). I’ve done my very best due diligence to determine what the standards are, work closely with staff, with you and the public to follow everything I knew about the standards,” Shay said.
The majority of the board members agreed with public concern and, after posing many questions and more than an hour of discussion, felt the email didn’t qualify as an official statement and lacked sufficient information they needed to make the decision.
Shay can now appeal Wednesday’s decision or submit a revised plan for a future meeting.