In what has become a familiar scene, numerous local residents speaking out against a controversial development project weren't enough to convince Savannah City Council to vote against it.
The large, $40 million multi-use "live/work/play" development Starland Village was approved for zoning by a vote of 6-3 today in Council. Alderpersons Van Johnson, Estella Shabazz, and Brian Foster were the no votes.
Johnson said of the project: "It represents coolness at its best... but in my mind it's also a fundamental mismatch to what's there.... It's classic gentrification."
Referring to the developer's efforts to network with Mid-City residents, Mayor DeLoach said "the Foram Group has gone farther" than nearly any other developer in responding to neighborhood concerns.
"It will change that neighborhood but it will change that neighborhood for the better," said the mayor.
Alderman Bill Durrence, in support of Starland Village, said, "If Foram walked away tomorrow.... somebody else will come in... at one point the Landmark District, if you go back far enough, was nothing but cottages. Scale changes, context changes.. I think this is a good project... this project has my absolute support."
However, a steady stream of residents and local small landlords spoke against the project.
Raine Blunk said the change of zoning to allow Starland Village will "homogenize years of distinct culture" enjoyed by local residents, adding that the "beautiful thing about Savannah is we have time to avoid" what has happened to so many other cities,"and this development would put a stop to that forever."
Virginia Mobley, former head of the Thomas Square Neighborhood Association, told City Council that "first you allowed big developers to push residents and local businesses out of the Landmark Historic District, then out of the Victorian district, and now you want to do the same to Thomas Square."
Indeed, at one point Alderman Julian Miller, supporting the project, said point blank that "this is not a neighborhood, this is a business district."
The Foram Group's attorney Robert McCorkle pointed out to Council that though the building contains a five-story structure, that portion will be set back from the street and the neighborhood is likely to only perceive it as a three-story structure.
An advanced semi-automated parking system will be incorporated into the development at Bull and 38th Streets.
In other City Council business:
* A zoning ordinance amendment passed to establish a Conservation Overlay District in the Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent/Ardmore Neighborhood. The change would make it more difficult to demolish existing contributing structures.
* Council approved a Fire Fee Discount Program to allow property owners to apply for and receive discounts on their new City of Savannah fire fee.
"Discounts are available for items and activities which support fire safety and reduce the risk of fire, such as installing smoke detectors or creating and practicing evacuation plans," says a City spokesperson,
The City currently anticipates billing the 2018 fire fee on the second installment property tax bill in September, 2018. Property owners can apply for the fire fee discount program between April 15, 2018 and June 1, 2018. Details about the program and the application can be found online at www.savannahga.gov/firefee.
The fire fee for all single family residences, before any discounts are applied, is $256 for 2018. The City will be sending out letters in April to property owners who will be billed a fire fee greater than the base $256 letting them know their estimated fire fee amount.
* The Broughton Street Corridor was officially taken off the City's Urban Renewal Plan, established in 1986 to revitalize the area.
"It has been fully renewed," said Alderman Foster.