September 27, 2016
Mayor Eddie DeLoach
City Manager Stephanie Cutter
Aldermen of the City of Savannah
Re: Item 8. Large-Scale Development (MPC File No. 16-004072-ZA)
The Honorable Mayor DeLoach, City Manager Cutter, and Aldermen:
On behalf of the Board of Directors and Advisors of the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Savannah, GA Inc. (DNA), I am writing to express in the strongest possible terms, our opposition to the Zoning Administrator’s recent interpretation that the RIP-D zone falls into the classification of “All Other Zoning Districts” for the proposed hotel project at 607 Drayton Street; thereby enabling eligibility of a bonus floor.
We urge you to reject the petitioner’s request for a bonus floor for this project on the grounds of incompatibility with both RIP-D and the Historic Landmark District’s height map. This would set a dangerous precedent for other RIP properties seeking conversion to RIP-D for the purpose of evading the height map. We believe the Zoning Administrator’s decision to be a mistake for Savannah, and point out the call for such an interpretation and the many requests for zoning variances highlight the need to place an urgent, full-court press to complete the long-awaited New ZO. DNA stands ready to work with all parties to expedite completion of at least the Historic Landmark District portion of the New ZO as soon as possible.
We believe the Zoning Administrator’s interpretation represents a new, creative twist to the increasingly prevalent and unfortunate “zoning-by-variance” habit in the Historic Landmark District that has, in our view, resulted in the systematic dismantling of zoning ordinances specifically designed to protect the historic integrity of the Historic Landmark District, for tourists and residents alike. This time, instead of having to rule on a height variance request originally sought by petitioner under the provisions of RIP-D, the Zoning Administrator’s interpretation of Savannah’s zoning ordinance obviated the need for such a variance request by declaring the provisions of the RIP-D zoning classification null and void for this property – thereby inviting a bonus floor.
The steady drip-drip of zoning variance approvals – and now this creative interpretation – allows increasing numbers of inconsistent and out-of-scale projects to proliferate in the architecturally fragile Historic Landmark District, and emboldens prospective developers to shoot-for-the moon when submitting Historic Landmark District design projects to Savannah authorities for approval.
If we are to have a chance to maintain the unique character and integrity of the Historic Landmark District as the zoning ordinances intend, Savannah must begin to enforce the zoning rules on the books for everyone. Variances should be the rare exception rather than the rule.
Melinda D. Allen
President, Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association
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