The Savannah City Council denied two zoning requests on Thursday that two hotel developers were depending on, in addition to directing the city attorney to determine whether a moratorium can be placed on new hotel projects in the Historic District.
The council’s actions came after area residents spoke out against a hotel project planned for a vacant lot at Tattnall and Liberty streets because of concerns that included noise, trash and parking.
“We feel we’ve gone past the time that we need another hotel,” said resident Gary Arthur. “What is authentic about our town plan is being dumbed down.”
The developer had sought a zoning change that would have allowed them to include a public restaurant and bar as part of the hotel. A hotel and restaurant open to the public can currently be built there, but the change would allow a more high-end establishment to open at the site by allowing guests, as well as the public, to come in and order a drink, said the developer’s attorney, Harold Yellin. Current zoning would require food to be served along with any alcoholic beverage, Yellin said.
“We believe that the more upscale hotels want to have a bar area which is a component of the restaurant,” he said.
Still, the council sided with the residents and voted the change down.
“They bought an investment in the neighborhood based on the current zoning,” said Alderman Brian Foster.
The second hotel project planned for Drayton Street, across from Forsyth Park, was dependent on the council approving a zoning text amendment that was supposed to clarify that the “RIP-D” zoning district where the project site located is commercial and the hotel thus qualifies for a fifth “bonus” floor. The Savannah Historic District review board approved the project after the city’s zoning administrator interpreted the zoning district as commercial, but the Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals rejected that interpretation last week and denied the fifth floor.
The council ended up voting 7-1 to deny the text amendment and sided with zoning board and residents concerned about the building’s proposed height. Alderman John Hall, who said he supported the zoning administrator's interpretation, cast the sole vote opposing the motion.
Spurred by the discussion concerning the two projects, Savannah Alderman Van Johnson suggested that moratorium may need to be placed on future hotel development.
“All growth is not good growth and at some point we get to the point where Savannah is not unique anymore,” Johnson said. “We have to protect what drew people to Savannah in the first place.”
The idea was further supported by Alderman Tony Thomas, who called for a motion for such a moratorium to provide time to assess and discuss future development downtown. That motion that was seconded by Alderwoman Estella Shabazz.
“You don’t want to be anti-business, you don’t want to be anti-tourist, but we continue to have these same fights,” Thomas said.
That motion was recalled after Alderman Julian Miller questioned Savannah Attorney Brooks Stillwell about the legality of such a move. Stillwell said moratoriums are typically not allowed, but that he would come back with an opinion on what the city could legally do in about two weeks.
Alderman Bill Durrence said he would also like to see more incentives offered for residential development, rather than commercial.
“I’m not anti-growth … but we’ve got to manage this,” he said.
In other actions, the council:
- Approved a $672,730, five-year contract with MotionLink for a police vehicle tracking system to help determine the fair share of department costs between the city and Chatham County.
- Approved a $245 increase for a replacement part to a $36,998 contract for 25 public safety cameras that was initially approved in August.
- Approved purchasing 30 additional body cameras for officers at a cost of $94,379
- Approved a $277,365 software and maintenance contract to provide computer-aided dispatch, mobility and police records management.
- Declared surplus a vacant lot at Habersham Street and Oglethorpe Avenue so the property could be sold to help finance public safety investments.