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Review board gets extra hotel floor question for a third time

  • The City of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday voted to send plans for the Liberty Hotel back to the Historic District Board of Review after an appeal hearing challenging the bonus story of the hotel. (Rendering courtesy of Lynch Associates Architects)

After a heated meeting on Thursday, the City of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals voted to send a much-contested height plan for a downtown hotel back to the Historic Board of Review for reconsideration. It will be the third time the HRB has heard the matter.

Thursday’s petition was the second appeal filed by attorney John Manly on behalf of Gary Arthur and the Beehive Foundation. Both appeals stem from the historic board’s February decision to grant a “bonus floor” for the Liberty Hotel planned for 301 Tattnall St. 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 ZBA heard the first appeal in April and determined that members of the review board had misunderstood the standards as they apply to bonus floors and thought that they had to grant the extra story, when in fact, bonus floors are a permitted right and not automatically granted.

The petition was approved and remanded back to the board in May, where under the direction of City of Savannah attorney Brooks Stillwell, members supplemented the record stating that they were not confused, but the board did not hold a public hearing or take an official vote – which is what Thursday’s appeal took issue with.

“We had a good reason to send it back and have them clarify their position and they didn’t do it. They simply didn’t do it, they didn’t vote,” said ZBA member Eli Karatassos, who was very outspoken about his support for the appeal and had to be quieted by board chairman Thomas Branch several times throughout the meeting.

“… My position is that the (historic board) did not follow proper procedure the first time nor have they followed proper procedure the second time.”

Historic Savannah Foundation president Daniel Carey — who spoke along with Manly and the developer’s attorney, Harold Yellin – said he had questions and serious doubts about how the petitions had been handled.

“We’ve got to correct that and starting over is the way to correct that,” said Carey, who also questioned Stillwell’s involvement in the May meeting.

“… It needs to start over and it can be done just the way it’s been presented to you today. This has been overblown and overcomplicated. What’s before you is actionable and you can make that decision and make it go back before (the historic board).”

After more than an hour and a half of discussion the board voted to approve the appeal and send the issue back to the historic board again where they will reconsider the elements of the project as they relate to height and mass and take an official vote to either grant or deny the additional floor.

The issue will be heard by the historic board on August 9.

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