On Wednesday, several members of the Historic District Review Board clarified that they were not confused when they voted to approve a contested bonus story of a hotel at Tattnall and Liberty Streets in February. It was just the latest move for a proposal that’s been volleyed back and forth for weeks.
The clarification stemmed from an appeal challenging an additional — bonus — floor for the Liberty Hotel at 301 Tattnall St., which was heard by the City of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals last month. The hotel is planned to be six stories at its tallest point and is located on a lot governed by limitations of four and five stories.
The confusion came because 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. The hotel site is on Liberty, but the front faces Tattnall.
During that April meeting the ZBA voted to approve the appeal and remand the case back to the HDRB because of confusion about the earlier ruling. After yesterday’s meeting the case bounces back to the zoning board with a supplemented record.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for the board to rehear the whole matter and if we did that we’d have to re-advertise it and have a whole public hearing and start from the beginning,” said city attorney Brooks Stillwell who added that the City was not taking a stand on the issue, but rather providing clarification.
“… My opinion is that we should just supplement the record and move forward.”
Daniel Carey, president of the Historic Savannah Foundation said he was confused as to why the issue was heard at Wednesday’s meeting since the ZBA audio recording states that the appeal was granted, calling the discussion, highly irregular. Carey believes the matter is one for Superior Court.
“I remain confused as to why we were there in the first place taking that issue up as everyone else there was, too,” Carey said after the meeting.
“…confused as to why today’s meeting on this item was even necessary, confused as to how this item was allowed on the agenda with no prior public notice, confused as to what today’s meeting accomplished other than confounding the situation and finally, frustrated that the City Attorney bulled his way into the process when it’s clearly a matter for Superior Court.”
Attorney John Manly, who filed the appeal on behalf of Gary Arthur and The Beehive Foundation, stated that since the HDRB had experienced turnover with some members’ terms expiring since the original vote took place in February that it was appropriate to rehear the case.
“In order for us to get an honest assessment of what impressions were of the members we’d have to pull every single member who voted in favor and we can’t do that now,” Manly said.
“… Hit the reset button and bring it back before this body and allow us to present evidence, allow the petitioner to present their case, allow the public to make comment and at that point we know what they rules are and we can all make an effort to make a determination as to what the legal standard is.”
After some discussion, board members Jennifer Deacon, Keith Howington and Kellie Fletcher, who all voted to approve the bonus story in February, stated that they knew that approving the extra floor was not mandatory and stood by their decision to grant the extra story.
Metropolitan Planning Commission interim director Melony West said it was the first time a decision had been remanded back to the board. It’s unclear when the issue will reappear before the zoning board.