SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah's rich history, on the surface, is easy to see. But what lies just beneath your feet when you walk around the Historic District is one area archaeologists are concerned about.
Currently, Savannah does not have an archaeology ordinance on the books that protects artifacts from being damaged or destroyed at new development sites.
"The petition was started because of our concern, in a National Historic District especially here in Savannah. For active construction, Savannah is at a stage where development and growth are happening again. And we don't want to see Savannah's past lost because of the growth of Savannah's future," said professional archaeologist, Phillip T. Ashlock.
1987 was the last and only time the Metropolitan Planning Commission passed an archaeology ordinance to Savannah City Council, where it was rejected.
"I think there's been a concern among the development community and others that an archaeology ordinance could cause delays and additional expenses for projects. So there's been some hesitation for the community to whole-heartedly adopt an archaeology ordinance," said the Metropolitan Planning Commission's Director of Urban Planning and Historic Preservation, Ellen Harris.
Ashlock added, "There's the issue of private property, and we're not looking to disturb property rights and those types of things. What we are asking is that people who are going to build large-scale projects here in the Savannah area, are willing to put forth the effort to do the due diligence to make sure that they're not negatively impacting the past, while moving forward into the future."
Harris described how the MPC is looking to incentivize site assessments. "We currently have a process in place, that's already on the books, where developers can earn a bonus story that's one story above the height map, if they meet certain criteria that's considered for the public good. And we currently have four of those criteria. What we're looking at now is expanding it to six criteria, one of which is the inclusion of archaeology on a project site."
"If you're building in the Historic District, any site that you build is going to sit on top of the history of Savannah. We want to know what that history is," said Ashlock.
The City of Savannah's director of library and archives says there is a difference in the condition of artifacts coming from traditional archaeological digs, as opposed to development sites.
Luciana Spracher said, "I think a lot of it has to do with having the expertise of an archaeologist who's able to study the ground and the layers and the historical resources that are available to get a better understanding of what everything means as you're digging."
If you want to take a look at the petition, click here.