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Construction & Building

Feb.1 - Agreeing with MPC Staff Recommendation, Commission Denys Expanding Plant Riverside Sign District for The Alida hotel

Category: Construction & Building

EDITOR's NOTE:  It has come to our attention that this story, written and published on Jan. 10, 2018, was not published due to a tech issue.  We apologize for publishing the story today, Feb. 1, 2018.

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

January 10, 2018 - The Metropolitan Planning Commission staff recommended denial of the expansion of the Plant Riverside sign district, approved last year to accommodate the massive Plant Riverside project by The Kessler Companies on West River Street, and heard at the MPC's Jan. 9th meeting. 

Speaking on behalf of the request by the RockBridge Development group of Ohio, currently developing The Alida hotel across the street from Plant Riverside, on the south side of the street, was Atty. Rusty Ross of Savannah. 

The new hotel has 173 rooms, and is a $73 million investment, bounded on the north by River Street, on the west by MLK Jr. Blvd., and on east by the Montgomery Street extension.

"The development was a partnership betwee RockBridge and the City of Savannah," said Ross, working together "on the establishment of a grand stairway down to River street. Next to it will be a public elevator.  The two great projects share a lot, but they really share West River Street."

Ross pointed out that The Kessler Company has received approval "for his whole building, the old power plant."  But, he said that there are other new buildings in the Kessler project, new to the area like The Alida. For that reason, RockBridge is asking that the Plant Riverside District be expanded to include their hotel, which would allow them to have different kinds of signs currently allowed by businesses in the area, and larger signs than will be allowed. 

"We’re not talking about anything crazy … we’re only talking about across the street.  There’s going to be an outside café, new power poles and new sidewalks that will connect to the new River Street walkway."  So, the idea here is not to develop the same sign as what Mr. Kessler is doing on his project, but to increase the hotel's main sign - a blade sign - and bring some consistency to signage there, Ross stated. "You won’t have the same thing on one side of the street as you have on the other," he added. 

One of the Commissioners responded, "If this is approved, what’s to stop everybody else on River Street from asking for bigger signs, as well?" 

"There are no other properties on River Street that need larger signage, based on their size," responded Ross.  The maximum size signage allowed is not in proportion to the building, he asserted.  "We’re talking about a pretty sizable structure.  We’re just trying to make the signage consistent in size and dimension."

The Plant Riverside signage district has a number of categories for size and types of signage allowed that were approved based on research into historic signage that existed in the area over a hundred years ago. The Alida's developers are seeking a larger ‘blade sign’ and to utilize other types of signage, similar to what Kessler’s entire project was granted by the City Council.

Representing the developer, Roy Zeigler also spoke, stating that the blade sign size is their primary need, leading to the request to expand the sign district, versus seeking a variance for every sign on the building.  They are also trying to get signage on their canopies approved, that do not currently align with the signage ordinances, but will be allowed on the Kessler property.

Architect Chris Sottile, working on the Kessler company project, spoke against the request. “The proposal before you is absurd.  It is not related to the history of the area. It’s in the Factor’s Walk sign district, appropriately.”

“This has to do with the integrity of our city,” he added. “To start to dilute that history is to start to create a cartoon of this history … there may be variance opportunities, to do that,” for the sign they want.

He said that the creation of the new Plant Riverside sign district was tailored very precisely, and it is a unique area of nearly four acres of property.  It’s creation resulted in the fourth sign district within the city’s historic district.  There were multiple public hearings, with analysis of the unique area - four city blocks and five major buildings and public space, including a public park and plaza.  As a design professional, the sign district proposal was a year project, alone he said.

Richard Kessler also spoke.  “I have over 40 years in investing in historic properties,” he said. “Our team worked five years on our project. It is important that we do not compromise the authenticity of this site, and respectfully ask you to … to reject" … and he asked them to abide by the same signage he used when he developed The Bohemian, a few blocks away, that has a blade sign that abides with the district’s standards.

Daniel Kerry with Historic Savannah Foundation also spoke in support of the MPC staff’s recommendation to deny. "We might argue that the problem is the size of the building, not the size of the sign, but that’s another matter. We do need to distinguish this building from Plant Riverside.  The Williamson Street hotel has grown by a floor," too, he added.  “That building grew,” he joked. 

The MPC Commission voted to uphold the staff recommendation, and deny expanding the Plant Riverside Sign District.

The hotel can apply for a variance for each sign request that does not comply with the sign district in which the hotel resides.

At some point, staff might need to look at making the size of signs appropriate to the size of the buildings that get approved, said Commission member Travis Coles, after the vote; and member Atty. Thomas Branch pointed out that many area hotels have been granted sign variances. 

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