The Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday voted to send plans for a proposed hotel at Tattnall and Liberty streets back to the Historic District Board of Review after an appeal was filed challenging a bonus story approved by the HDBR in February.
The appeal filed by attorney John Manly, acting agent for The Beehive Foundation, and Gary Arthur challenged the decision to grant the bonus story for the Liberty Hotel at 301 Tattnall St., alleging that the HDRB abused its discretion with the approval and were under the impression that the extra story was mandatory, not conditional.
“The intent of the Historic District height map is to provide some assurances to owners of historic properties and structures that their properties will not be dwarfed by high-rise buildings,” he said.
“We have rules and ordinances for a reason, and it seems to me that variances from these requirements have become the norm rather than the exception, and we’re asking you to reestablish the integrity of the ordinance as they were originally intended.”
The non-historic large-scale development ordinance states that the building has to be located on Liberty Street, Oglethorpe Avenue or a trust lot to be granted a bonus story. Manly argued that the building’s Tattnall Street address made the project ineligible for the extra floor.
Attorney Harold Yellin, who represents the hotel developer Ideal Hospitality Group, argued that the ordinance doesn’t state that a building needs an address on Liberty Street, but only needs to be located along the street. One side of the hotel borders Liberty Street, and Yellin said that location meets the criteria for the extra story.
Yellin also argued that the basis for Manly’s appeal was based solely on the impression that the HDRB didn’t know the proper procedure and that approving the appeal based on an impression would set a dangerous precedent for future cases.
“We’re deciding this today based on someone’s impression of what other people know… If you approve appeals based on someone simply being under an impression without any evidence to support that impression then I suspect every denial from the historic review board will be on its way to you…,” he said.
The board heard testimony and discussion for nearly an hour and half including listening to audio from the February meeting in which a HDRB used the word “shall” rather than “may” when asking about the need to approve the bonus story and was met with an affirmative response from historic board staff, which the ZBA concluded did show confusion in the February vote.
Several residents who live near the hotel also spoke at the meeting raising concerns about height, parking, increased traffic and overall incompatibility with the neighborhood. Now, with the plans going back to the HDRB, they’ll get a chance to talk more about their parking and visual concerns since those factors were outside of the ZBA’s authority.
“As a homeowner, I’m pleased with the results. Ideally, it would have been totally reversed and stopped right there, but at least now we have to go back to the historic board and they have to look at it again,” said Susan Colgrove, who lives on Harris Street and had gathered more than 150 names of resident who oppose the hotel’s height.
“It’s a lot of work, but we’ll keep working on it.”
President of the Downtown Neighborhood Association Melinda Allen said that she hopes the HDRB will take into consideration the lack of parking at the hotel.
“We think that this affords the historic board the opportunity to take a look at this plan in its entirety and its effect on the community,” Allen said.
“If you look at other hotels, like the Hampton and Holiday Inn on Abercorn, they included loading and unloading within the parameters of the property. They didn’t expect to just use the whole street for their commercial purpose.”
Board approves bar use
A newly proposed bar in the Thomas Square neighborhood cleared a major hurdle on Thursday after the City of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals voted to approve the special use for the Lone Wolf Lounge at 224 East 41st St.
The space was already zoned appropriately and had been carried over from the board’s March meeting. At the March meeting, staff had recommended denial of the use because of parking concerns.
The building is less than 2,500 square-feet and doesn’t require any reserved parking.
However, on Monday, bar owners presented a plan for six reserved parking spaces in a lot to the south of the property, which spurred staff to recommend approval at Thursday’s meeting.
A large group of supporters attended Thursday’s meeting as well as numerous residents who oppose the establishment, citing parking, noise and trash concerns. The use was debated for nearly an hour and a half before the board voted 4-1 to approve with Chairman Thomas Branch casting the lone opposition vote.
The owners will still have to gain approval for a liquor license from Savannah City Council, but one of the bar’s owners, Andrew J. Ripley, said he hopes to have the space open by the end of the year.
“It’s a neighborhood gathering place, something the whole neighborhood can walk to,” he said.
“… It’ll be a low-key spot. I’m happy to get the approval.”