The revised design of the proposed West Elm hotel across from Forsyth Park got an initial OK from the Savannah Historic District Board of Review on Wednesday.
The height and mass for the proposed four-story structure, on a vacant lot at Drayton and Huntington streets, was unanimously approved after the developer abandoned previous plans for a five-story building. The board’s approval means the project’s architect can move ahead with developing the design details of the hotel, which will then have to be approved prior to construction.
The previous incarnation of the project had also been approved by the historic review board, but the Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals later disagreed with a zoning interpretation that had allowed a “bonus story” and rejected the five-story project. The Savannah City Council later sided with the appeals board and the developer briefly challenged that decision in Chatham County Superior Court before agreeing to drop the case and reduce the hotel’s height.
The Drayton hotel is supposed to be part of West Elm’s foray into the boutique hotel business, which the home accessory retailer announced in September would include properties in Savannah, as well as Detroit, Minneapolis, Charlotte and Indianapolis.
The review board agreed to approve the height and mass, rather than continue it at staff’s initial suggestion, after Architect Patrick Shay agreed to some of staff’s recommendations for some minor changes.
“Because of the amount of time lost due to wrangling over the city ordinance, I’m under a lot of pressure from West Elm to come back with something more than a continuance,” Shay said.
Another hotel planned for a site at Tattnall and Liberty streets, which also suffered a setback from the city council, did not fare as well as the West Elm project. The historic review board, as well as some residents, raised concerns about the height of the hotel, which was proposed to increase from four stories on the southern end to five stories along Liberty Street. In addition, the board questioned whether the developer met the criteria for a “bonus floor” and the petitioner, Lynch Associates Architects, ended up asking for a continuance to address those concerns.
The review board did approve a request to demolition the non-historic two-story building on the site, contingent upon the developer receiving a construction permit for the project.
The continuance was not the first setback for the project.
The hotel had also been denied a zoning change by the city council in response to residents’ concerns, which would have allowed for a stand-alone bar that would be open to the public. A restaurant is already permitted to be built in the hotel, but the developer’s attorney Harold Yellin had said the zoning change would allow for a higher-end “boutique” establishment to open at the site by allowing guests, as well as the public, to come in and order a drink. Residents during that meeting had raised concerns about the hotel generating noise, trash and parking challenges.