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City Talk: Council to vote again on controversial Bolton Street project

On the day after the most recent Savannah City Council meeting, Alderman Tony Thomas announced on his official Facebook page that he planned to call a “vote for reconsideration” of the approval of a 114-unit apartment complex on East Bolton Street between Drayton and Abercorn streets.

With Thomas’ support, the project was approved 5 to 3. Alderman Carol Bell was absent for the vote, so she might be the swing vote in a 5 to 4 decision at Thursday’s session.

The posted agenda for the upcoming meeting includes two items related to the project that are nearly identical to the items approved two weeks ago. The mayor and council members will take a vote to enshrine the new 4-R district in the amended zoning ordinance and take another vote to rezone the properties bounded by Drayton Street, East Bolton Street, Abercorn Street and East Bolton Lane.

For the many reasons cited in this column, discussed in other pieces in this newspaper and shared in public comments about the project, I hope the mayor and aldermen will take a big step back. We need to create avenues for increased residential density and development in the downtown area, but the proposed apartment building is inappropriate for that location.

City staff made no formal recommendation on the agenda items before the Aug. 3 meeting, but they have recommended denial of both items in the posted agenda for Aug. 17.

So are we all just hypocrites? Will all the proponents of downtown residential development find some reason to oppose every proposed project?

Not at all.

Consider the old Sears building just a few blocks away along Duffy Street between Bull and Drayton streets. The footprint is similar to that of the planned building along East Bolton, but the Sears building has a radically different urban context.

In addition to converting the existing building to apartments, a developer could create a couple of levels of parking, perhaps underground, in the lot along Henry Street and then build several stories of apartments above.

Or perhaps a developer would seek to demolish the existing structure, which was used as government offices after Sears moved out, and build something of even larger scale.

There would inevitably be some concerns about architectural style and parking needs, but a large-scale project in that location would draw broad support.

Numerous other nearby sites could handle similarly intense residential development — and even accommodate a building nearly identical to the one that seems such a bad fit for East Bolton.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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