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Residential Real Estate

Different vision for Fairgrounds with a mixed-use complex and new City Administrative complex - versus low-income housing - emerges at District 5 meeting

Category: Residential Real Estate

PHOTO:  Tatumville resident Ms. Janette Scott, makes her points about the need for the City Council to listen to the input of the residents surrounding the Fairgrounds property on the land use strategy for the property's future. 

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

August 30, 2016 – The turnout at Tuesday evening’s District 5 neighborhood meeting proved two things: people are interested in what is going to happen to the 67 acres known as the Coastal Empire Fairgrounds currently being purchased by the City of Savannah, and Alderwoman Estella Shabazz has a close relationship with her neighborhood associations.

The Association presidents of Feiler Park, Tatumville, Liberty City, Poplar Place, Lees Gate, Feiler Terrace, Jackson Park and Summerside neighborhood associations in District 5 were all in attendance, as well as  a large group of residents to hear an update from Shabazz on her vision for the area, ask questions, and offer ideas.

Last month, the Savannah City Council agreed to pay $2,975,000 for the largest remaining parcel north of Derenne Avenue within the city’s urban core. Alderman-at-Large Brian Foster was the lone dissenting vote, concerned about the price being paid, lack of plan, and total potential costs for the city that might lie ahead.

The land includes 8 acres of wetlands that cannot be built on; 40 acres that are within the ‘A-Z zone’ flood zone that Shabazz said can be built on after mitigation such as drainage planning; approx. 14 acres of non-toxic debris field that can be developed; and eight acres of upland.  She projects that 59 to 60 acres is buildable, in total, and reminded all that "50 percent of our County is in a flood zone."

The surprise of the event - presented through a well-planned Powerpoint presentation - was her vision for the acreage which she termed “mixed use,” but that mix did not include ANY housing. 

Instead, Shabazz believes that the City should use the land to enhance the neighborhoods that already exist in Tatumville and nearby, now predominately single-family homes. 

Rather than new housing such as the Savannah Gardens complex on the Eastside, she presented a vision of building a new City administrative complex to combine many of the government's many departments scattered around the city; a community center with lecture facilities and meeting rooms; some form of cultural and historical center; and both outdoor and indoor recreational facilities for the area’s youth.

“One of the resounding things I hear is something should not be placed on this land to decrease the value of their properties,” she said. The land has the potential to stimulate revitalization and build generational wealth.”  City decisions “will increase our property values, or it will decrease our property values, and I mean all of us,” she added, including the city’s entire Westside.

In her opinion, low income housing “contributes to a few families being advantaged. But it drives down property values, does not generate permanent job opportunities, and contributes to further neighborhood deterioration.”

used around the U.S. , “and the number of community designed engagement developments has boomed,” working on negatively impacted cities to prevent developments that lead to inequitable harm,

Around the 67 acres are single family dwellings.  We have in our properites we have wealth.  One thing we do not need is a decreasing of property values, which she believes would be the result of building low-income or subsidized projects on the Fairgrounds.

“Why should we destroy that footprint, when it comes to the values of our properties?” she asked, referring to the hundreds of single family homes in the area.

At this point, there is no idea of how the land will be used.  The City’s staff developed an internal memo on the projected costs to work with the CHSA housing development company, as well as building recreational options, (See related story: ”The Blank Slate….”) but that is just one of many possibilities. Shabazz agreed, “It’s a blank slate.” 

She favors an innovation solution, arrived at through community engagement and listening to the resident’s ideas, “as we are doing tonight, and I know that there are many.”

And, she cautioned the residents to insure the Council does not ‘decide without the community, ”where the city decides administratively in whatever way the Mayor and City Council sees fit … with no consideration or research of the ideas or values of the residents,” she stated.

Her comment prompted the Mayor – sitting in the front row - to turn to the crowd and say, “So who favors that?” causing laughter, and breaking a moment of tension.  

Shabazz told the crowd that she is using social media, and will be sending out surveys to increase citizen input, and encouraged the neighborhood association presidents to continue to galvanize their neighbors.  “Tell your neighbors, we must be engaged!” she emphasized. “When you leave here, you’re going to have the information.  Take it back to your neighbors.”

She also announced a monthly conference call with all neighborhood association presidents in her District, to stay on top of this, and other issues, to be held the last Monday of every month.

As to input from residents, “the most resounding thing that I’ve been hearing is outdoor and indoor recreational facilities for teen sports,” Shabazzed added,  including indoor basketball courts with seating. 

Area residents then offered comments. Here are some of the highlights:

  • “One of my concerns is traffic,” said a gentleman.  “Will a traffic study be done before anything is done.  There’s a railroad back there, and there’s noise. Many nights the trains wake me up.”
  • Wanda Smalls, a black businesswoman in the area for 13 years, spoke saying, “We’re glad to see some businesses being thought about.” She added that the City should think about including a grocery store, “and maybe a nice restaurant,” as well as a place where youth can actually work in overall planning for the area.
  • Another resident of Carver Heights said that he would rather see a private developer develop the property.  “We need a place where we can exchange commerce together,” versus focusing on housing.  
  • “We want representation on whatever is going to go there,” said Janette Scott, former president of the Tatumville Neighborhood Assn, a 30-year resident, and a current member of the board, who made clear that they were going to hold all the Aldermen and the Mayor responsible. “And you too,” she said to Shabazz. “We’re going to hold you all to the promise that we will have input on what goes into our community.”
  • “What kind of commercial establishments such as a grocery store and doctor offices are you envisioning,” asked one man.  “What are you going to do to make the mixed-use really mixed?” Shabazz responded said her thought was that having a city administrative complex in the area would attract supportive businesses in the area.
  • An area pastor encouraged the City to meet with youth in the area about the recreational uses they want.
  • Are there any assurances about minority representation “in putting together this cake … to participate in the recipe of the fruition?” another said, asking if residents and local business people would get the “first shot,” at new commercial opportunities in the area. 
  • “Commercial development should be a necessity,” said another community leader. “We are in a food desert in that area.” 
  • Another offered that area youth should be engaged for ideas on recreational services they want. 
  • “Our priority is a place for our children to have recreation,” said another resident, though she added, “we don’t want a whole lot of small places that will create congestion,” in response to comments about adding retail businesses in a zoning strategy for the area. 

After the meeting, Ms. Scott said that she was not opposed to housing being a part of a master plan for the area, “but it’s the caliber of the housing,” she wants insured, such as single family homes that people could own.  She does not want a crime problem moved into her area “where we have worked so hard to improve our area.”

Next steps?  City Council could issue a Request for Proposals, and bid out the land to see what development companies would propose, inviting developers to put forward creative ideas for the area.  After the meeting DeLoach, who attended along with Alderman-at-Large Carol Bell, said that the Council had agreed to purchase the land with the vision of working with CHSA, or some other entity, to add to the City’s housing inventory.

“We will do what is best for our residents, for our entire City,” he said, “but this isn’t our vision (referring to Shabazz’s presentation.) “Some form of housing is part of our thinking.”  New homes also increase the city’s property tax base to help repay the City’s investment. 

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