Last Thursday, a divided Savannah City Council paved the way for a five-story, 114-unit apartment building that will stretch from Drayton to Abercorn streets between East Bolton Street and East Bolton Lane.
The development by Charlotte-based Delray Ventures, LLC required the creation of a new zoning district that allows for greater height, density and lot coverage and also required the rezoning of the subject property.
With the closest neighbors and the Metropolitan Planning Commission on record against the proposed development, I was surprised the mayor and aldermen voted to approve it.
I have long advocated for greater residential density in Savannah’s urban core and support numerous elements of the newly created zoning district, but this particular development seems far better suited for a large underutilized lot on the fringes of downtown than for a residential street next to Forsyth Park.
In his presentation to council, Delray Ventures’ attorney Harold Yellin compared the project to the gracious 6-story apartment building on West Gwinnett Street between Whitaker and Howard streets.
It’s an interesting comparison, but the footprint of the Bolton Street complex will be more than twice as large as that classic apartment building on the other side of Forsyth Park.
Also, single-family Victorian homes line the north side of the 100 block of East Bolton Street. Even if the developers’ architects are as sensitive as possible to the context, those existing homes will be dwarfed by the sheer mass of the new building.
The development will have a 148-space parking garage on the first two levels, which obviously adds considerably to the building’s size.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach and Alderman Brian Foster correctly noted that young professionals need more housing options in the downtown area, but it seems likely that the relatively expensive units will appeal largely to a small subset of Savannah College of Art and Design students.
The addition of so many new residents will be a boon to businesses in the neighborhood, but the style of the development could hurt the Victorian District’s neighborhood character.
The building’s limited entrances and secured parking lot will likely prevent the current residents of the block from getting to know – or perhaps even seeing – the newcomers living across the street.
The saga highlights yet again the need for an overhaul of our outdated zoning code. Instead of moving forward expeditiously with the new ordinance that has been in the works for over a decade, we continue to make the current zoning ordinance even more complicated.
The convoluted bureaucratic processes have led many Savannahians to conclude that wealthy developers can game the system. I suspect the growing distrust will hinder support for a number of important city initiatives.
City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.