SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The future of Savannah took center stage at a town hall meeting with city leaders on Monday night.
This "Ask an Alderman" forum was for Savannah's 4th District residents. Top of mind for many: crime and future development along Victory Drive.
At the very least, city officials offered some encouraging news, starting with crime.
Police reported lower crime rates for several neighborhoods in the district compared to this time last year. And when it comes to the future of the department, things are looking up. We started the year with nearly a 100 vacancies. Now, the department is only down two officers.
"87 officers are in some form of training, 43 in patrol school," said SCMPD Chief Jack Lumpkin.
Applications are up by about 70 a month.
The new police merger agreement is already in effect, too, which the mayor says is much different than the previous agreement because of how the Savannah City Council is now working with the Chatham County Commission compared to previous administrations.
"For whatever reason, there was a lot of distrust between the two of them, and there was no compatibility there. I think there is going forward," said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach.
The chief is pushing for new technology that will hold officers more accountable than they ever have been before.
"It will allow us to know where every police vehicle that Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department operates is at any given time," said Chief Lumpkin.
But another issue that commanded attention was the development of the Wicklow Farms area along Victory Drive. Neighbors there are afraid the city will choose big-box retailers for the old Johnny Harris site instead of local businesses. They're also concerned about traffic congestion.
The mayor was quick to remind them the new property owners have the legal right to develop as they choose, but he has hope the city will be able to influence the final design.
"That's the only place we've really got any hope of making any difference. I think that the builders will work with us and the developers will work with us so that we can have a design that might not be the best that everybody wants, but it can be a compromise that we can all agree on at some point," said Mayor DeLoach.
The mayor also said he wants to develop a process that better protects landmarks, like the old Johnny Harris building in the future.
He believes creating a plan to identify and re-zone historic and cherished properties could prevent another battle like the one we saw with the restaurant property.