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March 21 – EDITORIAL: It’s Official: National Park Service Assessment Ranks Savannah Historic District as ‘Threatened’ … still

EDITORIAL – Coastal Empire News

March 21, 2018 - The City of Savannah released news today that the National Park Service’s (NPS) Integrity and Conditions Assessment of the Savannah National Historic Landmark District was bad news, with a press release entitled, “

“As cited in this report, the status of Savannah’s Landmark District has not changed. It was designated as “Priority 1 Threatened” when it was last assessed in 2002, and it is recommended in this report to remain at “Priority 1 Threatened.” For the past 15 years the City has been working with local stakeholders to address most of the concerns noted in the report, with the goal of striking a balance between preservation, development, tourism and quality of life,” states the city’s press announcement.

But, apparently without sufficient success.

Almost weekly, the City Council and/or the Planning Commission is approached by developers to build, renovate or in-fill every square inch of the city that many of us call ‘home.’

The National Park Service Assessment notes three major factors for continuing to list the Landmark District as “threatened”:  An increase in new hotel development; An increase in the number of short-term vacation rentals; and Outdated zoning ordinances that “have allowed developers to find greater benefit to constructing hotels over multi-family buildings.”

How true to these words ring to all who continue to question the direction of both the MPC and the City Council, in a myriad of spot-zoning votes.

Next week, they will be faced with another critical vote, this time in the MidCity district, an effort to change existing zoning to allow massive, five-story buildings to be built in another historic area of our city.

Alderman Bill Durrence approaches change as inevitable.

Apparently, the National Park Service does not.

We who live in and love this city should be stewards of its history.  

We need to spend as much effort on repairing, protecting and cleaning the treasure that is Savannah, with the largest historic district in the United States.

Our city is dirty, points out Ruel Joyner, long time downtown Savannah business leader, and he doesn’t just mean after 500,000 people throw beer and trash on its squares and streets.

On Tuesday, I forecast that, once again, the media would receive a press release on a spill in the sewer system. It happens many weeks after there’s a large crowd in town, caused by the incorrect disposal of grease by our restaurants. When was a business last fined for not following local and state laws regarding this important aspect of protecting the environment?  

The National Park Service Assessment notes three major factors for continuing to list the Landmark District as “threatened”:

The official City press release today says, “Since 2003 the City of Savannah has taken major steps to address all of these concerns, including: Approval of refined design review guidelines to include a historic district height map and revised zoning ordinance (2003); Development of additional standards to regulate large-scale development (2009); Creation of local zoning policies to restore Savannah’s Town Plan with the goal of restoring areas which were significantly altered (2009); Restoration of Ellis Square, one of Savannah’s lost squares (2010); Restoration of a majority of buildings on Broughton Street and the edges of the Historic District (2015-2017); Adoption of a text amendment to incentivize residential development in the Landmark District(2017); Revision of the Short-Term Vacation Rental Ordinance to limit the spread of STVRs in the Landmark District. (2017); Completion of the City Hall Assessment and Restoration Plan to preserve the City’s building inventory (2018); and Adoption of the Hotel Overlay District to limit the location of large-scale hotels downtown (2018).

The city also states that it has adopted a Tourism Management Plan, “which seeks to balance tourism with quality of life for residents (2018),” but that isn’t accurate. The City Council has agreed to develop an advisory panel that will include residents because they are well aware that local residents believe their interests are not being heard – that we are overrun by tourists.

The National Park Service captured what’s wrong in city leadership here in its little bullet points.

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