Monday, September 17, 2018

Another lawsuit filed against Starland Village project

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 1:09 PM

Today, a second lawsuit was filed against the controversial Starland Village multi-use project set for the Thomas Square area — this one against City officials for allowing the project to go forward.

This lawsuit, filed by Thomas Square resident Stephen Argue, alleges among other things that the City is not fully compliant with state law, since there is no dedicated review board for any of Savannah's official historic districts other than the Historic Landmark District downtown.

"Starland Village should, according to state law, be subject to a historic district review commission overseeing the Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District," Argue tells Connect Savannah.

Currently, such a dedicated review board doesn't exist. Certificates of Appropriateness (COAs) for new construction are instead granted by authority of the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

"The City has every right to ask for Certificates of Appropriateness" for construction in historic districts, allows Argue.

But his lawsuit maintains that the absence of a state-required review board for Thomas Square means the current Certificate of Appropriateness for Starland Village — personally administered late last month by City Manager Rob Hernandez — is invalid.

Currently, buildings in the National Historic Landmark District, north of Thomas Square, are subject to the Historic District Board of Review.

The lawsuit also alleges that the City is not compliant with state law with regards to Requests for Proposal (RFPs) to purchase City-owned property.

"Georgia code says that in the RFP process, real property must be sold to the 'highest responsible bidder,'" Argue says.

Starland Village developer Foram Group was allowed to purchase a surplus police precinct despite failing to make the highest bid in two separate rounds of RFPs.

Argue concedes that the success of that portion of the lawsuit rests on what the actual definition of "highest responsible bidder" is taken to mean. Currently, the City of Savannah awards RFPs according to a scoring matrix which takes into account other aspects of a proposal besides just the offered price.

If successful, the lawsuit would have far-reaching implications both for future transactions by the City, in addition to potentially affecting past transactions as well, beyond just Starland Village.

"If the court agrees that the City of Savannah has failed to fulfill its duty, that certainly would have some effect," Argue says.

Argue's suit also alleges that the City provided improper notice of the police precinct RFP, and that City Council's vote approving a zoning text amendment allowing Starland Village to proceed under CIV zoning was invalid because it violated process under state law.

A previous lawsuit by several residents, filed in April and dismissed in June, alleged that the Metropolitan Planning Commission, which permitted a zoning amendment paving the way for Starland Village, was improperly constituted. 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

No evacuation needed for Chatham County, officials say; moderate risk of high winds, heavy rainfall from Hurricane Florence

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 1:42 PM

Chatham Emergency Management Agency announced Wednesday afternoon that for the Savannah area there is a "moderate risk for wind, a very low risk for storm surge, and a low risk for flooding as associated with rainfall" from Hurricane Florence, CEMA Director Dennis Jones said at a 1:30 p.m. update

"This storm doesn't necessitate any kind of evacuation order" for the local area, Jones said. "We do encourage residents however if they feel they need to do something to protect their family, they can do that."

"Chatham County is not in any warnings or watches at this time," Jones said.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the entire state about an hour prior.

CEMA says they are "not looking at any significant storm surge damage," but are  "looking at possibly a little bit of rainfall" from Florence after it makes landfall near the NC/SC border.

"All of the dangerous activity is in the northern part of the storm," Jones said.

Jones said, "The earliest reasonable time we'll see impacts looks to be around Thursday at 8 p.m. The most likely time Friday would be around 8 p.m."

"There are still probabilities of us receiving tropical force storm winds" at a moderate level," he said.

Jones said there could be 24 hours of sustained tropical storm force winds locally.

"It's likely, but not probable," he said.

Jones said "residual impacts" may continue be felt as late as Monday.

CEMA warns of tropical storm force winds and heavy rainfall due to Hurricane Florence

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 10:13 AM

The Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) says it is "closely monitoring Hurricane Florence and is coordinating response efforts with local, regional and state agencies. Chatham County could be impacted by tropical storm conditions within the next 48 hours."

"Impacts to Georgia could be tropical storm force winds and rainfall. Residents in areas that typically flood should stay alert for possible flooding. Residents should stay tuned to local radio or television for current weather information," CEMA says in a 10:13 a.m. update.

CEMA’s preparation and response activities include:

Conducting conference calls with the Command Policy Group, which is comprised of elected officials and County/Municipality leaders, surrounding emergency management agency (EMA) directors, the National Weather Service and neighboring states for in-depth discussion of the latest forecasts and storm scenarios

Coordinating with local, regional, state departments and volunteer and private sector partners

CEMA is encouraging residents to finalize their preparedness efforts. Some activities may include:

· Filling prescription medications, stocking up on oxygen and other medical supplies needed for 3-5 days.

· Prepare for potential prolonged power outages- stock up on gasoline for generators, gather non-perishable food items, and charge your cell phone and any additional back-up batteries.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

CEMA enters 'enhanced monitoring' phase for Florence

Posted By on Sat, Sep 8, 2018 at 10:35 AM

Due to Tropical Storm Florence, the Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) has advanced to "OPCON 4," which means enhanced monitoring.

Florence is currently a Tropical Storm and is expected to strengthen to a hurricane over the weekend. Residents and businesses should monitor your normal sources for current weather information.

Here's CEMA's checklist on what to do now:

Monitor local authorities for advice and protective actions.

Prepare or inspect your emergency supply kit, and do not forget your pet’s kit too.

Create or update your family evacuation plan, detailing how and where you will evacuate and where you could meet if separated.

Document important belongings and consider taking pictures or video of your home.

Inspect your property for loose, lightweight items that could become airborne.

If you have functional access or medical needs call the Chatham County Public Health Department to sign up for the registry, 1-833-CHD-REGISTER

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hudson Hill Center closed indefinitely due to structural issues

Posted By on Thu, Sep 6, 2018 at 2:02 PM

The City of Savannah has temporarily closed the Hudson Hill Center which offers programs for senior citizens, children, and community members. The center is located at 2227 Hudson St. in West Savannah.

"This week City staff observed possible signs of structural issues, including significant foundation settlement. The exact cause is unknown," a City spokesperson says.

"The City has hired a structural engineering firm to assess the problem and advise the City on the next steps. Out of an abundance of caution for safety, the center will remain closed until further notice," the City says.

The Hudson Hill Center offers programming for seniors and after school activities for children Monday through Friday.

"For now, the programming for seniors has been moved to the nearby Moses Jackson Center on Richards Street. The City’s Parks and Recreation staff are still working on a plan for after school programs," the spokesperson reports.

Both the Moses Jackson and Woodville centers offer programs for youth and seniors. The City is encouraging community members are encourage to contact those centers for more information about the specific programs they offer.

Outdoor youth athletic programming at the Hudson Hill Center has not been affected, the City says.

Midtown streets to experience closures due to movie production

Posted By on Thu, Sep 6, 2018 at 1:57 PM

The City of Savannah "will close a few roads and intersections next week near East 31st Street to accommodate movie filming," a City spokesperson says.

East 31st Street between Abercorn Street and Lincoln Street will be CLOSED from Monday, September 10 through Friday, September 14 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Savannah Police officers will be closing other roads intermittently during those dates and times at the following intersections for 2-3 minutes at time:

· Northbound of Lincoln Street after 32nd Street intersection

· Northbound/Southbound of Habersham Street at East 31st Street intersection

· Northbound/Southbound of Abercorn Street at East 31st Street intersection

The City says that "residents and businesses in the area were notified by mail in early August and again September 5 about the closures. The closures will be reflected on the Waze mobile app and Google Maps."

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Arena Construction Manager contract delayed after $3.9 million error causes controversy

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 6:27 PM

A key City Council vote to award the "Construction Manager At Risk" contract for the Savannah Arena was delayed two weeks due to chaos caused by a so-called "scrivener's error."

The error, totaling a nearly $4 million upward adjustment in the winning contract, provoked a formal protest and appeal by a losing bidder, as well as unrest on Council itself.

The winning bid was from national giant AECOM Hunt, whose resume includes Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The error on their bid caused the potential award to jump from $7,316,016 to $11,166,016.

"The reason for the discrepancy is a misreading of the fee proposal document submitted by AECOM Hunt," City staff explained.

City Manager Rob Hernandez apologized to Council, saying, "We just didn't catch it... that should not have happened."

Nonetheless, Hernandez recommended moving forward with the award to AECOM Hunt, which remained the low bidder even after the "scrivener's error."

Walter Murphy of competing bidder JE Dunn, the only local firm of the three bidders, forcefully spoke against the vote:

"You just added $3.5 million" to the Arena construction contract, he told Council.

"How you did that I don't know... who is looking out for the taxpayers?"

Murphy intimated that there was fraudulent activity in the bid process.

"Today you were misled" by AECOM Hunt, Murphy said to Council. "Is there a separate ground rule for out of town firms?"

This contract is just the tip of the iceberg for the winning Construction Manager, who will spend much more money than that to hire various subcontractors to work on the Arena.

Estimates for the total cost of the Arena construction range from $120 to well over $140 million.

Alderman Bill Durrence said, "I'm very nervous. I've never spent $140 million before."

Durrence said that with such a "huge disparity in numbers, it seems like that should have been a red flag."

The "scrivener's error" boiled down to different ways of filling out the bid paperwork, a City staffer explained.

"The City requested that the proposers express construction manager fees, including overhead and profit, as a percentage of all subcontracted and all self-performed costs. All three proposers provided the percentage of construction manager fees as requested, but the City did not originally recognize that AECOM Hunt did not add that dollar amount to its bottom-line price on the fee proposal document."

Despite the threat of a potential lawsuit, Hernandez maintained that the process was done according to City protocol and policy, and the error in no way minimized AECOM Hunt's status as the highest-scoring bidder on the City's award matrix.

In other City Council business, plans moved ahead to sell the historic Gamble Building on Factor's Walk to the Foram Development Group, which is also behind the controversial Starland Village project.

Foram plans high-end condos on the site, with rooftop gardens.

Aldermen Tony Thomas and Van Johnson both objected to the sale, saying the City will have to lease expensive space in the Savannah Morning News building for the City staff that will have to leave the Gamble Building.

"The City is giving up its imprint on the historic waterfront," Thomas said.

"It boggles my mind that we are selling buildings to pay rent on others," said Johnson.

In another development, an alcohol license transfer brought what to some observers seemed like a mean-spirited, xenophobic reaction to an immigrant entrepreneur on the City's westside.

The license for Jyoti B. Patel narrowly passed after neighborhood opposition based on perceived high crime in the area around the convenience store at West 60th and Montgomery Streets.

In opposing the license for Patel, Alderman Tony Thomas repeatedly lambasted what he said were Patel's frequent trips to India.

Patel's attorney responded that she recently went to India to visit her son, but resides in Chatham County.

Thomas went on to berate Patel, through her attorney, for having limited mastery of English.

City Attorney Brooks Stillwell had to remind Council that there was no legal way they could require Patel to be on-site constantly as the alcohol license holder, as was suggested by several Council members opposed to the store — and apparently also opposed to her traveling to her home country. 

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

National Park Service puts Savannah National Historic Landmark District officially in "Threatened" status

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2018 at 10:13 AM

The National Park Service (NPS) this morning released official findings from a recent study it commissioned to determine the status of the Savannah National Historic Landmark (NHL) District.

"Following a comprehensive study, site visits, public meetings, and a public comment period, the NPS has determined that the overall condition of the district falls into the 'threatened' condition category. This assessment does not change the designation status of the district as a national historic landmark," the National Park Service reports.

"Through the condition assessment process, the NPS found that the Savannah NHL District continues to retain the qualities for which it was originally designated and is not a candidate for losing its designation," the NPS says through its Southeast Regional Office.

"However, the study also reveals that the Savannah NHL District has lost some historic integrity and faces preservation challenges."
The principal historic feature of the District is the Savannah Town Plan designed by James Oglethorpe in the 1730s, the NPS says.

"The District’s 'threatened' category status is based on several identified challenges including the impact of new construction on the Savannah Town Plan; the vulnerability of archeological resources, historic pavement, and cultural landscapes; threats from natural disasters; and a series of intangible threats like noise and traffic," the NPS reports.

“The Savannah National Historic Landmark District remains a national treasure and we look forward to assisting the community in continued preservation efforts,” said Cynthia Walton, Southeast Regional Office National Historic Landmark Program Manager. “By having this information, the community can better understand and protect the unique character of the Historic District that makes it such a special place to live in and visit.”
The NPS study sparked controversy this past spring when the media it, along with the recommendation from the study that the NPS put Savannah on the Threatened list.

Savannah's Landmark District had been in "Satisfactory" status since 2006.

At the time, City Manager Rob Hernandez wrote an op-ed to the daily paper claiming falsely that the NPS had discredited its own study.

At a press conference about the study, Ellen Harris, Director of Preservation with the Chatham-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, pointed out the extreme development pressure that in part contributed to the Threatened status.

“Last year the [MPC] Board and staff reviewed 372 Certificates of Appropriateness — that’s more than double what it was ten years ago," she said in March.

The NPS says it will continue to monitor proposed projects that may diminish the integrity of the Savannah Town Plan and has recommended several steps to improve the overall health of the district including updating the NHL nomination and developing a cultural landscape report.

The NPS says it will continue to work with the community in their preservation efforts and will remove the District from the “threatened” condition category when the proposed actions and conditions that may diminish the District’s historic character have been addressed.

The public can learn more about the Savannah NHL District condition assessment by visiting

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

City to ask public to "help shape" new Savannah Arena

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2018 at 10:06 AM

The City of Savannah will hold a news conference on Thursday, August 23 about the design phase of the new Savannah Arena project.

The conference is Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.

"Pete Shonka, the Executive Director of Arena Development will announce how the public can provide feedback to the City and the arena design contractor Perkins + Will. The City will be soliciting input concerning the features and amenities inside and outside the new arena," a City spokesperson says.
Perkins + Will was recently awarded a nearly $9 million contract to provide the design of the new arena. The total cost of building the arena will be at least $120 million, with tens of millions more budgeted for road widening, drainage, parking, and other amenities not funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax which is funding the arena itself.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Savannah Music Festival announces new Executive Director

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 11:55 AM

The Savannah Music Festival (SMF) Executive Committee and Board of Directors today announced the hire of David Pratt as Executive Director following the recent resignation of Rob Gibson from the Executive & Artistic Director position.

Pratt is the former Executive Director of the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, in that post from 2010-2015.

"Pratt leaves his current post as Chief Executive of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in September, and will begin full-time at SMF in late October," says an SMF spokesperson.

Pratt says, “I’ve always had a great appreciation for SMF’s work in arts presenting and education, and look forward to being part of the leadership team that ushers in the 30th festival season.”

In the wake of the staff shakeup, longtime Marketing & Managing Director and current Interim Executive & Artistic Director Ryan McMaken has been named Artistic Director to serve the artistic aspect of Gibson’s previous position.

Both he and Pratt will report directly to the Board.

SMF Board Chairman Dave Neises and the Executive Committee began forming a search committee last month, and "subsequently learned of David Pratt’s desire to return to Georgia."

Neises says: “David Pratt is a seasoned arts administrator who is also well-loved in Savannah. His nonprofit business acumen and leadership skills, along with his extensive experience within the musical arts, make him an ideal fit for the Executive Director role at SMF.”

The 30th festival season begins on March 28 and runs through April 13, 2019, with a lineup announcement on November 9, 2018.

Connect Today 09.19.2018

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