By J. Patrick Connell
If you own property in Savannah you are considering developing, you should be aware of recent changes to Savannah’s Zoning Ordinance that could motivate you to do so sooner rather than later. Savannah enacted “NewZO,” a long-awaited and comprehensive overhaul of its zoning ordinance, in July of this year. Importantly, NewZO may have changed what you can do with your property in ways that affect the value of your property adversely.
NewZO went into effect as of September 1, 2019. However, NewZO allows you to choose between its regulations and those found in Savannah’s prior zoning ordinance until February 28, 2020. This means that if NewZO in fact negatively impacted your ability to develop your property, you only have until February 28, 2020 to apply to develop your property under the prior ordinance.
The pertinent section of the Ordinance reads: “The Effective Date of (NewZO) is September 1, 2019. However, between September 1, 2019 and February 28, 2020, a developer shall have the option to elect that their development be governed by this Ordinance or the previous ordinances in effect immediately before the Effective Date of this Ordinance. To qualify for this election, a developer shall submit a complete application as provided in Section 3.1.5 for their development at the time of election and no later than February 28, 2020.”
The ability to choose between the two ordinances is important because zoning determines, in large part, how a particular property may be developed. Zones establish what uses are permitted. Ancillary regulations prescribe development standards and review processes, like, among other things, how many parking spaces must be developed, how far a building must be set back from a property line, and whether a building is considered a historic structure. Two similar properties sitting next to each other with different zoning designations (like commercial verses residential) may have very different permitted uses and development standards.
The experiences of two clients provide practical illustrations of these concepts. The first client wants to develop a restaurant in an existing building in Starland. NewZO did not change the property’s zoning. However, NewZO deems the building a contributing historic structure, subject to additional restrictions and review, whereas the previous zoning ordinance did not. Further, NewZO’s parking requirement for the restaurant is far greater than that of the old ordinance. Finally, a Special Use Permit is required under both the old zoning and NewZO, but NewZO requires an additional level of review by the Mayor and City Council. These factors weighed heavily in the client’s decision to move forward with the development process quickly to complete development plans in time to elect treatment under the old ordinance.
The second client owns three adjacent properties on a busy road in midtown that have a total land area of approximately .75 acres. She had no immediate plans for developing the properties but asked me to look at the differences between the old ordinance and NewZO after I explained the election provision. I am glad she did because one of the three properties, which accounts for approximately 1/3 of the total land area, was changed from commercial to residential zoning by NewZO. She is now working toward selling the properties immediately so that a potential developer can take advantage of the election provision.
I encourage anyone with property in Savannah to learn whether NewZO impacted its developability. Time is of the essence.
About the Author : J. Patrick Connell is a partner in the Savannah office of Boyd & Jenerette, P.A. His practice includes land use planning, zoning, real estate development, and government regulatory law. He can be reached at email@example.com.