Rezone approved for Johnny Harris property

Rezone approved for Johnny Harris property

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The future of a decades-old Savannah restaurant may now be in question.

Johnny Harris Restaurant has been in business for 90 years, but the city is now contemplating new zoning to allow for other use. This is an 11-acre piece of land, and the plan is to develop it as a commercial shopping area.

The Savannah City Council voted 6-to-3 Tuesday to approve the re-zoning of the property. Alderman Tom Bordeaux, Mary Osborne and Tony Thomas were the three no-votes. They expressed concern about this increasing traffic to an already congested area of town.

"Much of the traffic that will be using those sites are already going on Victory Drive, so it's no new traffic attracted to it," said MPC Executive Director Tom Thomson.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission will conduct a traffic study to find the best way to avoid extra traffic, but people are also upset this could mean a historic Savannah restaurant may be closing its doors.

"I don't know how many people are left other than those my age that can remember the dances and parties that we attended here," said Carl Oelschig, longtime Johnny Harris customer.

Oelschig, 78, remembers the days when he would take young ladies on dates to Johnny Harris in the 1950s. And in the 30s, his parents went on dates there, too.

"It sticks with you, this place does," said Oelschig.

And he's just one of countless people with fond memories here.

"Yeah, hopefully it will live on, hopefully. I guess it sort of brings back memories of my parents, you know," said Chet Jerniga, longtime Johnny Harris customer.

Thomson said they're at least encouraging the builders to consider leaving the iconic building untouched even if another business moves in there.

"You know, they have retailers that have their own concept of what their image is, and so we have to work with that and them and see if we can come up with an answer that works," said Thomson. "We're trying to encourage them to develop the site in a more urban way, instead of a more big-box large parking lot way. And we're having that discussion - or will have that discussion as we go forward with the site plan."

Whether they reach that compromise remains to be seen. But many are asking if this will mean a complete end to Johnny Harris Restaurant.

The owners of Johnny Harris would not go on-camera Wednesday, but they did release a statement saying:

"First of all, Johnny Harris Restaurant continues to operate business as usual. Should the developer follow through with the obligations of the contract, which is a process expected to go through the summer of 2016, we are preparing contingency plans to rebuild and/or relocate the restaurant."

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