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Developer withdraws Ardsley zoning request after tense board meeting

  • After failing to come to a decision concerning several variances for a proposed Ardsley Park home, the potential homeowner of this lot was allowed to withdraw his petition abruptly. (Photo courtesy of city of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals)

After failing to come to a decision concerning several variances for a proposed Ardsley Park home on Thursday, the city of Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals allowed the potential homeowner to withdraw the petition abruptly at the end of the hearing.

The current home at 325 East 49th St. has been vacant for about 15 years, according to Mark Stroud, who intends to buy the lot and raze the 1920s bungalow to rebuild a two-story home with a slightly larger footprint.

Addressing the board Thursday, Stroud said the owner of the property — who still pays taxes along with utilities for the home — lives in California and has no intention of returning to Savannah. Stroud also showed the board several interior photos taken in Dec. 2016 that showed mold growth, collapsed ceilings and other deteriorating conditions, which he said also includes termite damage.

“My original intention was to purchase the home and renovate it. It was only after I was able to get inside and have some contractors walk through that I realized the extent of the damage,” he said.

Stroud was requesting approval of a lot coverage variance more than the permitted 30 percent lot coverage; a 6-foot variance in the required 50-foot front building setback; a 3-foot reduction in the required side building setback; and a 3-foot variance in the required 5-foot rear building setback for an accessory building.

The plans submitted for review show the 1,700-square-foot residential structure along with an outdoor shed is to be replaced by a 2,115-square-foot home with a one-car garage. The proposed plan would occupy a total of 2,379-square-feet of the 4,702-square-foot lot.

Other than a height maximum, there is no local ordinance that would dictate the design standards of the home or prevent the demolition even though the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Neighborhood concerns

Several residents, who were concerned about the size, lot coverage and the precedent the approval might bring, voiced opposition during the hearing. The board also received more than a dozen opposition letters, including one from the Historic Savannah Foundation prior to the meeting.

Near the end of the hearing, which lasted for more than an hour, the discussion became quarrelsome, with Chairman Thomas Branch having to quiet fellow board member Eli Karatassos along with audience members several times.

Karatassos made a motion to continue the petition to the board’s November meeting, but the motion was voted down. Soon after, Karatassos announced plans to leave the meeting before the final decision was reached, with at least one audience member voicing their displeasure, which prompted another round of gavel banging from Branch.

Following the meeting, Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent Neighborhood Association President Nick Palumbo and the other residents voiced their displeasure with the board’s decision to allow the petition to be pulled at the last minute instead of voting on the matter. Had the board voted to deny the variances, Stroud would be required to wait a year before resubmitting.

“The process is not designed for you to get to look over the edge and then get to walk all the way down the ladder when you don’t want to jump,” Palumbo said. “When you can foresee that it’s going to turn down, you can’t withdraw it as it was within the last minute.”

“I would (have) encouraged them in that year to work with the neighborhood association and neighbors. Every adjacent neighbor to the property is in opposition to this application, the neighborhood association is in opposition. It’s clear that this just isn’t wanted.”

The neighborhood association’s main concern was the approval of the variances would set a precedent for unfavorable neighborhood development in the future. The group also questioned if the board legally had a quorum since Karatassos walked out of the meeting early.

“It’s the actions, it’s public theater. When Mr. Karatassos, instead of voting on the measure to have his opinion be heard when he’s outnumbered, instead leaves, protests, jumps up out of his chair, furrows his eyebrows, clenches his fists and yells at the audience … ,” Palumbo said.

“We need a professional planning organization. We need an objective body that is going to weigh in on these things, but as long as they continue to allow this to get out of hand, it’s going to slip away from the public’s confidence.”

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