$40 million Savannah Starland District project passes first hurdle

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A $40 million project potentially bringing retail, residential, and event space to Savannah's Starland District passed its first hurdle Tuesday in a special MPC meeting.

Developers of what would be called Starland Village in Savannah's Thomas Square neighborhood made their case and got the approval of the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

This isn't the first time this came up for a vote in the MPC. It also did last week and was continued after a deadlock vote - 4 to 4. That was largely due to a proposal to create a whole new zoning district just to accommodate the developer of Starland Village. That new zoning district would've been called a Traditional Commercial-Mixed Use Development, or TC-3, and could've been applied in at least nine other areas of Savannah. MPC staff instead suggested working within current zoning guidelines and adding text amendments. That's exactly what the developer, the Foram Group, did - but it seemed to fall short of changes those living in the surrounding neighborhood wanted to see.

"All the applicant has done is put lipstick on a pig. That is, that they have just shoved what they were going to put in the TC-3 zone into the CIV, and trying to extend it out into the adjacent and related properties," said Julia Sullivan, who spoke on behalf of some residents.

All told, the development encompasses five parcels and the developer is proposing putting in a city lift, semi-automated garage to the rear of the old Epworth Church - a first of its kind in the city.

"It's virtually impossible to rezone a piece of property, create a new development, and for me to stand here and say that no one is ever going to ask for the same thing. Someone will always come and ask for the same thing. Our goal, based on what staff asked us to do, was to narrowly construe it as much as possible so that whatever window was created by this project would be a narrow one," said Foram Development representative, Robert McCorkle. "We'll continue to have meetings with the Neighborhood Association and with any individual members, anybody wants to talk with us. We have a long road still to hoe. We have a site plan process as well as the design process that will involve more public hearings - plenty more opportunities for the neighborhood to be heard."

While not everyone in the surrounding neighborhood is convinced this development as is will be what's best, either because of its height, parking problems or noise, one Thomas Square neighborhood leader says he's confident the dialogue will stay open with Foram.

"What I've been really pleased with, from the MPC side and the developer's side, and what also we are going to be doing as a neighborhood association, is really working hard now to find proactive solutions to these concerns. I think our top concern was parking and congestion, so we've really got to see what we can do. Now that this is passed the MPC, this project has gone through its first threshold, what can we do to proactively protect residents parking that they've got right now," said Clinton Edminster, President, Thomas Square Neighborhood Association. "Do not get me wrong, it is a large project and with it comes a massive parking concern, so I think we need a really innovative solution to how we deal with parking. Honestly, I'm really excited to tackle those. It's not going to be easy. It may not be super fun and the most exciting meetings, but it is going to be necessary to do because this is not the only project that's coming into the neighborhood. There are many, many others coming as well."

The amended Starland Village proposal passed MPC with a 9-2 vote. It will now go to Savannah City Council for consideration.

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