The design of a hotel that spurred confusion and conversation over zoning districts received the green light from the Historic Review Board on Wednesday.
The board voted unanimously to approve the design details for The West Elm Hotel at 607 Drayton St. after about an hour of presentation and discussion. At 57 feet tall, the building is four stories and features rounded corners on the Drayton Street facade and a low brick wall that borders the street.
The board approved the height and mass of the hotel in January after a previous five-story version was rejected by the Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals after they disagreed with a zoning interpretation that had allowed a “bonus story.” The Savannah City Council later sided with the ZBA and the developer briefly challenged the decision in Chatham County Superior Court before agreeing to drop the case and reduce the hotel’s height.
Daniel Carey, president of the Historic Savannah Foundation, who spoke during public comment, called Architect Patrick Shay’s willingness to reduce the height and work within the height map guidelines a momentous occasion.
“This is a four-story building and it’s working not only as a hotel, but for our community, as well,” Carey said.
“… We can show how something does work under the intended and written height guidelines and it’s successful and it will be successful as an enterprise. This is the first in a long time that hasn’t had a variance or additional bonus story, so we know this can work.”
Carey however did have concern — as did the staff and board members — over the design of the roofline, which staff and board members felt gave the appearance of an additional story. Shay agreed to work with staff to revise the details to make the element more visually compatible.
The hotel is part of home goods retailer West Elm’s foray into the boutique hotel business. The company will also open locations in Detroit, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Oakland. The company opened their first store in Savannah last year.
River Street Hilton project
The board also voted to approve the height and mass of another of Shay’s projects — a 41,000-square-foot, full-service Hilton hotel at 620 East River St. It was the second time this year the board had considered the hotel. Members previously took issue with a large dome structure on the roof of the building; the dome was eliminated from the plan approved Wednesday.
The board however expressed concern with the height and setback of an eight-story portion of the building. The larger portion of the building sets back from the two-story portion that spans along the Savannah River front. The approval was contingent that Shay either reduce the overall mass of the building or increase the setback to maintain the character and context of the Riverwalk.
Shay, who said a lot of progress had been made on the design, didn’t agree with the recommendation to scale down the building’s size.
“We would ask that you please consider that it fully meets the standards. The standard is that we’re allowed to have that height on the height map …,” Shay said, adding that he had worked to meet the previous comments given by the board and would appeal the height issue.
“… That is a nonstarter and would be crippling to this overall development.”
The Hilton hotel is part of a larger development on the east end of River Street that includes three other hotels and a parking garage. The Homewood Suites hotel is open and a second hotel nearby has gained height and mass approval. Details for a third hotel, Hotel Anne, will go before the board at a later date.