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City Talk: Expect more investment in Montgomery corridor

I have been writing for years about the inevitability of major investment in the Montgomery Street corridor north of Victory Drive. The area is close to downtown, convenient for multiple modes of transportation and dotted with dramatically underutilized properties.

Consider a proposed development now working its way through our overly complex and arbitrary approval processes. The site is a full city block bounded by West Anderson, Montgomery, 31st and Jefferson streets.

Half of that city block has been occupied in recent years by an auto repair garage and a collection of derelict cars. If you look at the site in Google Maps’ satellite view, you can even see a big pile of tires.

The site also has four residential buildings, including an especially nice historic residence fronting West Anderson Street.

Under the plan considered last week by the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the developer Midtown Redevelopment, LLC, would add 82,200 square feet of new construction to the site, including a four-story, 100-unit apartment building facing Montgomery Street.

The planning firm Sottile &Sottile has proposed an impressive conceptual master plan that respects historical patterns, utilizes the interior of the block for parking and increases residential density in appropriate ways. The plan also requires significant zoning changes and the relocation of the historic residential building on Anderson.

Since the site straddles the border of the Victorian and Mid-City historic districts, the proposed relocation raises awkward questions about the integrity of the neighborhood designations, even though the structure might be moved less than a block away.

There are a number of other complex issues, but it seems likely that the development will eventually move ahead, although the developer might have to make a variety of modifications to the current plan.

As developers are able to assemble multiple parcels, the neighborhood is going to see more developments like this one. Let’s hope that those future efforts are as sensitive to the historic urban form as this project is.

But there is a larger story here.

The Census tract that includes this ambitious new development lost one-third of its black residents between 2000 and 2010 even as the white population doubled. Those trends have their roots in the 20th century and are certainly continuing today.

Some readers will remember that I wrote extensively about the city’s demolition in 2015 of three dozen historic, affordable dwelling units in Meldrim Row, just a couple of blocks from the development now being proposed.

It seemed obvious at the time – and even more obvious now – that the removal of so much affordable housing would accelerate the ongoing demographic shift and encourage neighborhood gentrification.

If we are be serious as a community about having a decent supply of affordable workforce housing, and if we are serious about maintaining socioeconomic diversity in the historic neighborhoods in Savannah’s core, we need to take some steps in that direction immediately.

We can find ways to create additional affordable housing even as we encourage new investment like this promising development.

Edna Lewis Foundation packs The Grey

“Ham had the same rating as the basic black dress,” influential chef Edna Lewis wrote. “If you had a ham in the meat house, any situation could be faced.”

Lewis, whose publications include the 1976 book “The Taste of Country Cooking,” died in 2006, but her influence still seems to be growing as chefs and restaurateurs explore southern roots and traditions in greater depth and with more nuance.

Lewis has become an especially important role model for a new generation of African-American chefs.

I had never heard that wonderful quote about having a ham ready in the meat house until last week’s fundraiser at The Grey for the Edna Lewis Foundation, which has the mission “to revive, preserve and celebrate the rich history of African-American cookery by cultivating a deeper understanding of Southern food and culture in America.”

Chef Mashama Bailey at The Grey recently took over recently as board chair, a position held for many years by Chef Joe Randall.

It was a good night for the foundation, which packed The Grey to raise money for scholarships (yes, I bought my own ticket), and it was a good night for the attendees too, who enjoyed some scrumptious and hearty dishes.

The featured chefs included Cheryl Day of Back in the Day Bakery, Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, Ben McLean of Leon’s Oyster Shop in Charleston, plus The Grey’s Bailey and Erin Burns.

Over the years, I’ve become especially interested in the ways that food can connect the past with the present and bridge cultural divides, and I’m excited to see how the Edna Lewis Foundation evolves.

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

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