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City Talk: Starland Village attracts excitement, questions

The Foram Group has big plans for the west side of Bull Street between 37th and 39th streets.

The city of Savannah recently selected Foram as the buyer for a former police building with a sizable parking lot at the northwest corner of Bull and 38th streets. Foram has also acquired the gorgeous church on the southwest corner, plus the adjacent education building and two parking lots.

Foram plans to convert the church into an event venue with a maximum capacity of up to 800.

Renovation of existing buildings and new construction will create ground level commercial spaces, office spaces, 54 small apartments starting at about $1,300 per month, a rooftop park and approximately 150 “automated” parking spaces.

Foram president Travis Stringer detailed the plans last week to a packed meeting of Thomas Square residents eager to lean more about the proposed Starland Village. Also on hand were Andrew and Becky Lynch of Lynch Associates Architects and Matthew Kaufman and Jeffrey Heinz of Kaufman-Heinz LLC, who will manage the proposed venue.

The general concept for Starland Village was already well-known in the neighborhood. Reactions seem to run the gamut from strong approval to strong disapproval. I think it’s fair to say that most attendees seemed cautiously optimistic about the potential for the major investments that Foram is making.

Foram’s ambitious plans raise some tricky questions for the future of the neighborhood.

I live about six blocks away from the proposed Starland Village, and I would love to be able to walk to a sizable venue that hopes to offer a variety of performances plus programming from groups like the Savannah Philharmonic, Savannah Music Festival and Savannah Stopover, all of which were mentioned as potential users.

But the venue won’t have any off-street parking, and several nearby blocks don’t have lanes, so residents are totally reliant on street parking. Stringer cited data about the number of vacant on-street spaces in the general neighborhood, but it’s clear that venue parking would at times overwhelm blocks in the immediate vicinity.

The approval process needs to address the residential parking needs and concerns about noise late at night.

Stringer also said that new construction would be as tall as 55 feet — 10 feet taller than allowed by current zoning. I think we often worry too much about height in Savannah, but a variance for this project would set a precedent for many other underutilized properties in the neighborhood.

Also, as Thomas Square attracts new investment, some residents are increasingly concerned about gentrification and affordable housing, but I haven’t yet seen any relevant attempts to address these issues in a substantive way.

You’ll be reading a lot more about Starland Village in the near future.

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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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