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Review board OKs Liberty Street hotel design

  • The Historic Review Board on Wednesday voted to approve the height and mass of the Liberty Hotel at 301 Tattnall St. The decision follows months of discord between the historic board and the City of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals after a nearby resident filed an appeal challenging the hotel’s proposed height. ((Rendering courtesy of Lynch Associates Architects)

A proposed five- and six-story hotel at Tattnall and Liberty streets was given the green light by the Historic Review Board on Wednesday. The board voted 3 to 2 — with Chairman Stephen Merriman voting to break the 2 to 2 tie — to approve the height and mass of the Liberty Hotel at 301 Tattnall St.

The approval follows months of discord and confusion between the historic board and the City of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals, who have been volleying the petition of Lynch Associates Architects since April after an appeal was filed challenging the height of the structure.

The hotel, which will include 111 rooms, a restaurant and bar encompasses 8,470-square-feet and is 69 feet tall at its peak, dropping in height to the south to 56 feet tall. The site of the proposed hotel is split between a four and five-story height zone and is requesting a bonus floor making it between five- and six-stories tall.

The original appeal, filed by attorney John Manly on behalf of Gary Arthur and the Beehive Foundation, alleged that the Historic District Review Board abused its discretion by approving a bonus floor for the hotel in February. The ZBA approved the appeal and remanded it back to the HRB. The HRB discussed the petition at their May meeting and members clarified for the record that they understood the standards, but didn’t hold a public hearing or take an official vote on the advisement of City of Savannah attorney, Brooks Stillwell.

A second appeal was filed challenging the May outcome and the ZBA once again approved the appeal and stated that the HRB must rehear the petition and take an official vote.

On Wednesday, Manly argued that the large scale development standards require developments seeking bonus stories to be located on Oglethorpe Avenue, Liberty Street or a trust lot and since hotel’s main entrance is on Tattnall it shouldn’t be eligible for a bonus story.

“As I stand here today as an agent for the Beehive Foundation and Gary Arthur, I can tell you without hesitation that 301 Tattnall St. project is not the type of development that was envisioned when this ordinance was enacted,” Manly said.

“The intent of the Historic District height map is to provide assurances to owners of historic structures that their properties will not be dwarfed by high-rise buildings. We have rules and ordinances for a reason and it seems to me that variances from these requirements have become the norm rather than the exception.”

Since the project took shape earlier this year. several residents along with the Historic Savannah Foundation and the Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association have also protested the height of the hotel, which they claim is incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, by sending letters and petition against the development to the board. Residents have also been present at each hearing to voice their opposition during public comment.

“We do not feel that the spirit or the intent of the ordinance was followed as far as giving greater weight to the surrounding historic buildings,” Melinda Allen, president of the Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association said following the meeting.

Like Allen, Manly and Arthur believe that more emphasis should be put on surrounding historic structures instead of non-historic buildings, including the Savannah Civic Center and a nearby parking garage, but are hopeful that a compromise can be reached.

“We appreciate them coming to the table with design elements that are more beneficial to the neighborhood,” Manly said, adding that he is unsure of the next step, but another appeal to the ZBA is possible.

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