Savannah Historic District's National Historic Landmark listing threatened

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The National Park Service recently released an Integrity and Condition Assessment of the Savannah National Historic Landmark District, conducted at the request of Historic Savannah Foundation.

The report recommends Savannah's Historic District be placed on the "Threatened Priority 1 List." This means the district has "suffered or is in imminent danger of a severe loss of integrity." A district is moved to this list before becoming in danger of losing its National Historic Landmark listing.

A discussion with historic preservation specialists was held Wednesday to ask for the public's input when it comes to revisions of the Historic District Ordinance.The Historic Savannah Foundation puts it like this: the Historic Landmark District just went for its check-up, and although the results aren't the best, it can still be fixed.

One of the biggest proposed changes includes adding stories for non-historic large-scale developments. Developers can add a story, but they have to meet certain criteria. There were four sections of criteria, but the city is proposing three. In order to get an additional story, a developer must restore a historic street or lane, provide affordable housing, or include multiple uses on the ground floor.

The Director of Urban Planning and Historic Preservation says the Metropolitan Planning Commission has been working on these revisions for two years, and now, they want the community's feedback.

"We anticipate incorporating the changes," said Ellen Harris, Director of Preservation. "The Historic Review Board will be the body to determine whether or not that's appropriate change, or if we need to tweak it. We'll put together a final draft and send that to the city council for review and adoption."

"The National Historic Landmark status is rare and coveted," said Daniel Carey, President and CEO of Historic Savannah Foundation. "You earn that, and we don't want to discard it."

Daniel Carey is the President and CEO of the Savannah Historic Foundation. He says the assessment notes several factors which are threatening the city's status, including losing the concept of James Oglethorpe's Savannah Town Plan.

"The Oglethorpe Plan is of paramount importance, so anytime we can protect it, we should," he said.

Oglethorpe's plan was mainly based on our historic squares - the layout of the city. In the 1800's, the city grew to include 24 squares, but Carey says some have been lost throughout the years.

"Notable intrusions include Highway 17 constructed down Montgomery Street; we lost Elbert and Liberty squares," Carey said.

The city of Savannah is responding to the assessment. Bridget Lidy, Director of Planning and Urban Design for the city, says they take these reports seriously.

"The city has been working over the last few years to do positive things to counter that."

In 2010, the city restored Ellis Square - one of the city's lost squares. The city says they're continuing to take steps to address the remaining concerns.

"We are looking at taking Montgomery and making it two-way from Liberty to Broughton, which is huge because it's going to restore that historic grid pattern for the potential of the square being restored," Lidy said.

Carey says the steps taken by the city gives him encouragement for what's yet to come.

"We really need to take Oglethorpe's plan because that's our identity and that's our calling card," he said.

If you couldn't make it to Wednesday's meeting, you'll have another opportunity next Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

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