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Commercial Real Estate

April 12 – 5:00 p.m. - Council Delays Approval of Aluminum Windows on E. Bay Street Hotel until April 26

Category: Commercial Real Estate

Savannah Business Journal

April 12, 2018 – A long list of speakers urged the Savannah City Council to support the MPC staff and Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the request to install aluminum-clad windows on the new hotel being developed at the corner of 7 Drayton Street and East Bay Street, in one of the city’s historic buildings built in 1915. 

Speakers from the Historic Savannah Foundation and Historic District Review Board, as well as area residents, pleaded with the Council to protect the building’s design character, and reminded the Council that the issue before them was a text amendment to current Zoning Ordinances that would affect as many as 30 buildings in the Historic District – not just this one hotel project.

The building was sold by Inman Park Properties of Atlanta for $7 million in 2016 to 7 Drayton Street Hotel, LLC. of New York City.  Construction general contractor is Pinyan Construction.

“The city will lose its greatness, little by little … and window by window … as another historically significant building is turned into a hotel.  Aluminum windows is defacing the building, and is utterly and visually inappropriate,” said one speaker.

“How many years will it take before Savannah ceases to be ‘Savannah’ … because it just doesn’t seem as special as it did?” asked another.    

“Putting aluminum windows on a historic building makes it a ‘formally historic’ building,” added another area resident.

“The question we need to ask today is, “Who gets to make these decisions, and for whom?” a local resident and local business owner in the Historic District asked.  

But the most convincing argument appeared to have been made by Daniel Carey, President of the Historic Savannah Foundation, who said that the developer had not met with area residents or stakeholders, which is the City Council’s normal process when a zoning amendment is proposed.

“It’s a proposed substitute material, and it’s inauthentic .  But, worse, we have not received a phone call,   an email , nothing,” said Carey. “This is a text amendment that will affect at least 30 buildings.  This is not just about helping one business out.”

“We haven’t don’t that here (involve stakeholders), and that is not acceptable. Or, you have a double standard, and you’ll have to explain that.  I really implore you, at a minimum to continue to this, so that we can get the stakeholders together,” Carey concluded.

Other speaker pointed out that if the Council overrides the professional recommendations of the MPC and all of the other review boards, “what is the lasting impact to all of the review processes?”

Melinda Allen, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Assn. board of directors, said that windows are in fact an architectural element. “There is a reason that Savannah has contributed over time to protecting the authenticity of buildings. We are a Landmark District, and we have strived to be more than just an Historic District … to protecting the authenticity of the District.  Once you reduce the restrictions …” what happens next, she asked. “This should be a community-based, and expert-led decision.  This is about local decision making.  You are the last line of defense for protecting the Historic District,” she told the Aldermen and Mayor.  

The developer is represented by Atty. Philip McCorkle of Savannah, who pointed out that the proposed windows are approved by the National Park Service, the entity that designates ‘historic’ districts. It is a wooden windows that is aluminum clad. “The most important thing is maintenance.  In the National Park Service Guidelines, they say in certain large and tall buildings with multiple windows it is sometimes appropriate to have aluminum clad windows.  There are 147 windows in this building.  This is a large, tall building.”  And, he added that they would have brick mold, with no lugs. “These windows look like the original windows that had been in the building,” he added.

After listening to all speakers, Mayor Eddie DeLoach, who appeared to have been in support of the windows earlier in the hearing said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s not going anywhere because the petitioner didn’t meet with the stakeholders. And, when I go to this stakeholder’s meeting, I better see the windows.  I understand the strong feelings of those who live in the Historic District.   And, as far as I’m concerned, there will be no vote on this today,” until they meet with the Downtown Neighborhood Assn. and Historic Savannah Foundation.  Bill Durrence moved to continue the petition until April 26, which passed unanimously. And, Alderman Tony Thomas said he would agree with the motion if the Council agreed to hear the text amendment again at their April 26 meeting, to not unnecessarily hold up the project. 

In other zoning hearing Thursday, the Council approved two rezoning items. A new East Broad Market Lofts PUD, was moved by Brian Foster, rezoning lots from R-4 to PUD, located at East Broad Street and E. 39th Street. 

The petitioner, Bob Isaacson, received his first PUD District zone in 2010, and built apartments that have been received well by the neighborhood, said Foster. Isaacson was requesting a number of amendments, including to allow a maximum of 36 units on one of the lots, and to amend the parking standards.  The Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning, but denial of changing the parking standards.

The lot is not within the Mid-City District, known to have “the most flexible” parking restrictions. 

Foster said that the neighborhood has been very positive about the first phase of apartments in the area, and “They want to do the same type of apartments across the street.”

“We have a short window to do this because of HUD funding we have,” Isaacson explained, “but the parking is onerous.”  Foster explained that interest rates will go up, possibly two times this year, and Isaacson needs to secure the financing.

Foster said that the project “will absolutely take out an eyesore in the neighbor.  One block away, in the Mid-City District, the parking requirement would be different.”    

“The Historic Savannah Foundation owns an easement on the building, but supports the project as proposed .. because of the greater good,” said HSF director Daniel Carey.

The project will help with progress being made in the Baldwin Park neighborhood, as well, added Foster.

Alderman Bill Durrence, who represents District 2, said that there’s “not the high demand for parking that the code might require, based on the parking around the current apartments,” adding the city needs workforce housing. It was stated that local police and fire personnel have been living in some of the units built by Isaacson with the first PUD designation.  

Foster made the motion to approve, with amendments. East Board Market Lofts PUD will now include the 613 E. 39th lot. The amendment was to amend the PUD also, to adopt the Mid-City parking requirements and restrictions.    

In Other Business …

The Council voted to declare 916 MLK Jr. Blvd as surplus property, the former Savannah Pharmacy building, that the City purchased during the Edna Jackson administration, with intentions to preserve it. But, after purchasing it, found that there was no internal rebar or supporting structure.  Alderman Van Johnson, who represents the area, said that he agrees that despite a great amount of review, the building cannot be saved, but asked that the City Manager agreed that the funds received will go back into the district. 

City Manager Rob Hernandez said the funds will be re-allocated to the Central Police Precinct project, and the “caretaker property next door,” he said. “Those revenues have to go back into SPLOST.” But, he agreed that the money will go into a District 1 SPLOST project.

Regarding the upcoming Fire Fee, all non-single-family properties are going to be getting a letter by the end of April, with an estimate of their Fire Fee bill that they will receive in September, such as churches and schools, according to Hernandez, in response to questions by Thomas.  The deadline to apply for a waiver or discount of the fire fee is June 30.

In other business, Thomas asked for a line-item accounting from City Attorney Brooks Stillwell, on all expenditures by the city’s Legal Dept. from January until today.

The Council is having a Retreat on May 4, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on multiple issues. 

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