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Board approves plan to encourage residential development downtown

  • The Metropolitan Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to approve an amendment to the City of Savannah Zoning Ordinance to remove density standards for several districts in an effort to encourage residential development. (Savannah Morning News/Katie Nussbaum)
  • The Metropolitan Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to approve an amendment to the city of Savannah Zoning Ordinance to remove density standards with the historic district in an effort to encourage residential development. (Map courtesy of the city of Savannah)

The Metropolitan Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to approve an amendment to the City of Savannah Zoning Ordinance to remove density standards for several districts. The petition, which was brought by the city, aims to provide more incentives for residential development and create more balance for hotel and residential development.

“In urban neighborhoods, density is not a bad word and it’s important to know that density is incredibly important for urban neighborhoods to stay affordable, to have multiple businesses that can succeed to have things like grocery stores and the kinds of services that residents would like to see in their neighborhoods,” said Kevin Klinkenberg, director of the Savannah Downtown and Redevelopment Authority. The authority conducted the study presented at Tuesday’s meeting.

The new plan removes density maximums, which limit the number of dwelling units the property is allowed to have regardless of the site’s ability to meet other requirements such as parking and building height.

For instance, in the mixed-use districts, also known as RIP zoning districts, residential developments require a minimum of 600-square-feet per dwelling unit, which on average allows for 70 units per acre, but these requirements don’t apply to lodging or hotel development, which makes that use more attractive to developers.

Klinkenberg said most of the older regulations were put into place decades ago and no longer work for the city’s urban landscape.

“The only way to keep a place affordable as an urban neighborhood is to allow for supply to meet demand. And we’re in the position now in Savannah where we have incredible demand,” he said.

All structures will still be subject to development standards such as visual compatibility factors.

The petition passed with little fanfare or discussion from commission members. Representatives from the Historic Savannah Foundation and the Downtown Neighborhood Association both expressed support for the new plan.

“I think this goal of trying to level the playing field between residential and hotel development is good. That is an important goal,” said Daniel Carey, president of the HSF.

“We want to maintain as much residentiality as we can within the downtown area, which is under a lot of pressure from tourism — which is important to this city, but nonetheless comes with expense and toll particularly on the residents, so this is good.”

Echoing Carey’s comments, Bob Rosenwald, vice president of the DNA, expressed his group’s support for the ordinance following the meeting.

“(The DNA) fully supports this, but we need to make sure whatever is passed doesn’t open up a new can of variance worms,” he said.

“So we need to make sure it’s written in a way that actually meets the desire to level the playing field.”

Carey also advised the commission and city council, who will have to approve the petition at a later date, to be mindful of the impact the new ordinance could have on short term vacation rentals in the future. Building multiple units in multi-story buildings could bring the potential for illegal STVRs, he said.

“It’s just something we should be mindful of and the city should always try to stay a step ahead,” he said.

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