June 26, 2020 – A first reading was held to rezone 65.28 acres owned by Savannah Country Day School in the Windsor Forest neighborhood. The MPC staff had recommended denial, but the MPC Commission voted to approve the rezoning by a vote of 6 to 4.
The private school. founded in Savannah in the 1950s, is seeking to rezone the land from RSF-6 Residential Single-family to the OI-E Office and Institutional-Expanded district designation. The school is represented by Atty. Josh Yellin.
The school existed prior to zoning in the city, founded in the 1950s. When zoning came in, their land was zoned R-6, residential, and is surrounded by primarily single-family homes, but schools were allowed to exist, but they are required to be on an arterial roadway, which Country Day is not. Therefore, whenever they want to do anything with their property, they are required to come to the MPC for a zoning variance, though they have not done so over the past 10 years as new buildings were constructed.
Benjamin Hill, who resides on Greenbrier Dr. spoke against the rezoning. His property would be directly affected, and he was not aware of any neighborhood meetings that were held on the issue.
‘I am one of the residents that will be adversely impacted, as the MPC staff states. I am asking the Council to review the MPC report. The MPC said that the rezoning would make the area less desirable and less marketable, and that the increase in traffic is incompatible with the neighborhood … these are the findings of the MPC’s professional staff,” said Hill.
“I have never seen a child at Savannah Country Day walk home. The families that send their children to this school do not live in this area. I do,” he added.
Mayor Van Johnson asked if Hill’s statements about the opinion of the MPC staff were accurate to as to what was in the MPC report, which Acting City Manager Pat Monahan said that they were.
The school is legal, but a non-conforming use under current zoning. Any expansion of a non-conforming use must go to the Zoning Board of Appeals “which will require a 60 to 90 day delay,” any time the school wants to do anything to one of its buildings, said Yellen. School began with 340 students back in the 1950’s, and now has 1040 students on a campus with 21 buildings.
Alderman Kurtis Purtee said that he has had a good working relationship with Savannah Country Day, and he pointed out the community service activities of the students.
“But the concern that I have is that I don’t like seeing a staff recommendation that recommends denial, and then seeing an MPC vote to approve,” he stated.
“We’re talking about impacting neighborhoods, impacting lives. Residents are very still concerned about decisions made 30 and 40 years ago regarding the school, and the impact on the neighborhood. “But I can’t address that. The only thing that I can ask is, I want to see a compromise … I want to see a commitment by Savannah Country Day school to stay in Windsor Forest, to stay in the neighborhood for at least 15 years. I don’t want to see the area becoming industrial - no leasing out to anybody and remaining on that property.
“Number two, I am prepared to move forward on closing this hearing, and moving to the second reading to July 9, but I want to see a master plan on what’s to be developed so that we know what we’re getting into. I don’t want people looking at a two-story building facing right in their backyard.”
Atty. Yellen responded that the school’s been there a very long time, “and I think that remaining here is an easy one, to remain a school, to come up with a recordable to document.”
He also said that they have a master map of their plans, and he would meet with school representatives and the MPC.