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Pooler planning board votes down variance request for new hotel

  • A preliminary design for a proposed Aloft hotel at the corner of Benton Boulevard and Towne Center Drive. (Courtesy photo)

The city of Pooler’s volunteer planning and zoning commission is recommending that city officials turn down a requested height variance for a new hotel in Godley Station.

In a unanimous vote Monday, planning commissioners voted down the building height variance for a proposed five-story Aloft hotel at the corner of Benton Boulevard and Towne Center Drive. Local development firm HOS Management had requested the variance, along with a second requested variance for parking lot setbacks to accommodate the hotel on the 3-acre site. The planning commission on Monday forwarded the parking lot setback variance to the city council without a recommendation, which, under city rules is the equivalent to a recommendation for approval.

As a result of the vote on the variances, site and landscape plans for the project also received a recommendation for denial this week.

If the planning commission’s recommendations are overturned and the variances and plans are approved by the Pooler City Council next week, they would allow HOS to build the hotel to more than 70 feet in height — 20 feet above the 50-foot height maximum allowed for in the Godley Station planned unit development — and reduce parking setbacks on the building’s sides and rear.

Kris Patel, chief financial officer for HOS, told the Savannah Morning News earlier this month he thinks the location is ideal for a hotel because of its close proximity to nearby retail, restaurants and entertainment venues.

The Board of Directors and the Architecture Review Board for the Southern Portion of Godley Station Association have already signed off on the variances. In addition, George Fidler, the director of engineering for the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, said the proposed building height should meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

The agent for the project, Terry Coleman of the Savannah-based Coleman Co., said he thought the variances were consistent with what’s already taken place in Godley Station. Several other businesses in the area have received similar parking setback variances to the one HOS Management is requesting, he said, and other developments like the Tanger Outlets and a proposed new micro hospital have received variances for building heights.

“I do strongly feel that other properties have been allowed, to the benefit of them,” Coleman said. “(HOS Management) are looking for the same opportunities that have been given others.”

Still, not everyone is sold on the need for another hotel in this area of Godley Station, where Pooler officials in recent years have already approved plans for two other hotels.

Last month, Forest Lakes resident Aaron Higgins started an online petition that called for city officials to turn down plans for the project. His petition argued that with the other hotels already approved for construction on Pooler’s side of Benton Boulevard, the Aloft hotel is unnecessary. The petition said the area proposed to house the hotel is already over-saturated with traffic and no alterations to the hotel’s plans could make such a development desirable.

By the time the planning commission’s meeting started Monday, Higgins’ petition had been signed 78 times. Introducing the petition Monday, Higgins said he was representing a group of citizens who are concerned about the city’s growth, and he urged the planning commission to turn down the variances.

Resident T.C. Williams voiced additional concerns about the development’s impact on local flooding.

Ultimately, Planning Commission Chairman Samuel Bostick said his board’s charge is to weigh each variance request on its own merits, based on the city’s variance standards. What the Pooler City Council does after that, said Planning Commissioner Brian Cornwell, is up to them.

“A 70-foot hotel is not needed in this community,” Cornwell said. “If City Council wants to build a (70-foot) hotel in the middle of Pooler, that’s their decision to make.”

The meeting Monday could be the last under the Pooler Planning and Zoning Commission’s existing membership. Last week, the Pooler City Council held a first reading of an amendment to the city’s code of ordinances that would restructure the board from a seven-member volunteer agency to a panel of six city staffers and one resident. If the Council adopts the change on second reading next week, it would go into effect immediately.

Higgins told the planning commission he plans to present an alternative proposal to the City Council at the meeting. He said his alternative would restructure the planning board to be a panel of five citizens and two city staffers.

In other business, the planning and zoning commission:

• Recommended approval of site and landscape plans for a Coastal Electric of Georgia location at 2 Westside Court.

• Recommended approval of site and landscape plans for a Savannah Tire location at 1151 Pooler Parkway. The vote was conditional on developers of the parcel working to improve traffic at the intersection of Pine Barren Road and Pooler Parkway.

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