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Grocery store planned for former Johnny Harris site

Subheadline: 
Local leaders encouraged, say 35,000-square foot development a good fit

  • FILE - The sign for the old Johnny Harris restaurant, which closed May 28 of last year.

A new plan for the former Johnny Harris site along Victory Drive is being developed after previous plans to develop the property and surrounding area were abandoned.

The new developer’s site plan consists of a 35,000-square-foot “neighborhood” grocery store and is less than half the size of the previous 11-acre development site that was bounded by Victory, Wicklow Street, Kerry Street and Dixie Avenue, according to the developer’s attorney, Robert McCorkle, III.

“It should be a good addition to the area,” McCorkle said.

The potential development is still in the planning stages and has not yet been presented to the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission for approval. To move forward, the Savannah City Council will also have to approve the sale of an unopened road, Munster Street, that runs through the property from Victory to Kerry Street.

The sale of the public right-of-way had been scheduled to go before the council Thursday, but has been postponed for two weeks at the developer’s request so the petitioner can provide the community with more information about the plan, said Alderman Julian Miller.

“They want the public to feel comfortable with it,” Miller said.

Alderman John Hall said he agreed to postpone the vote, although his constituents support the project, which is located in his district. Most of the concerns have been raised by residents of communities in Miller’s district such as the Parkside neighborhood, just west of the proposed development, Hall said.

“I have some residents who are ready to go,” he said.

On Wednesday, McCorkle met with some of the critics of the previous development to show what his clients have in mind.

Rob Hessler, co-chairman of the Parkside Neighborhood Association, said the new development is a better fit for the area.

In addition to being smaller in scale, the grocery store would be much closer to Victory, so there would not be a large parking lot between a multi-tenant commercial building like what had been proposed previously, Hessler said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Nick Palumbo, with Smart Growth Savannah, said he was also encouraged by the meeting. One of his remaining concerns is the impact the project will have on traffic patterns along Victory. He requested that the development include a road parallel to the heavily trafficked corridor, Palumbo said.

The city had required the previous developer to maintain two east-west roadways connecting Dixie Avenue to Wicklow Street as part of the the deal to sell Munster for the project when the council declared the right-of-way surplus last March. That requirement was not included in the city’s latest deal to sell the property for $382,000, however.

City Manager Rob Hernandez felt like the sale of the street should not be a part of the development process, said Bret Bell, deputy assistant to the city manager.

The new project faces one less hurdle than its predecessor after the demolition last summer of the 80-year-old building that housed the Johnny Harris restaurant. The restaurant’s president, Norman Heidt, had opposed the calls to save the building and has voiced support on behalf of the owners for the previous development plan that includes the structure’s demolition. Heidt cited the use of the building’s branded image on barbecue sauce the company planned to continue selling as one of the reasons the structure could not be saved, in addition to being costly to operate compared to more modern layouts.

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