Public forums being held to discuss status of Savannah Historic Landmark District

Public forums being held to discuss status of Savannah Historic Landmark District
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A recent study suggesting the Savannah Historic Landmark District should be rated a threatened historic site is now part of a new review of the city by the National Park Service.

The Historic District was rated "Unsatisfactory" in 2002. The last evaluation of the Historic District was completed in 2006 with a  "Satisfactory" rating. Despite all the changes that have happened in Savannah, another full report has not been done since.

Members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association met on Tuesday to hear more about the status of Savannah's National Historic Landmark District to discuss the current status of the Historic District.

CEO of the Historic Savannah Foundation, Daniel Carey, said, "Yes. It had been a long time. We are due, if not overdue, to reassess the Landmark District."

Ellen Harris, the Director of Urban Planning and Historic Preservation for the Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, agreed and said, "The Historic District ordinance was adopted by City Council in 1973. At that time, I think no one foresaw the challenges we would be facing in 2018."

In 2015, the NPS commissioned New South Associates, Inc. to conduct an Integrity and Condition Assessment. These were their findings:

  • The majority of Savannah’s squares retain a high level of integrity in relation to their retention of the Savannah Town Plan, architectural integrity and landscape integrity.

  • Planning policies adopted by the City of Savannah to restore the Savannah Town Plan to its original design provide the opportunity to reestablish “lost wards” into the larger mosaic of the district, as with the restorations of Franklin and Ellis Squares.

  • The district’s greatest challenges are related to the loss of the Savannah Town Plan and large-scale development, particularly in relation to height and mass.

  • The squares that have seen the most change related to degradation of the Savannah Town Plan and a high amount of incompatible infill development are those located in the highly commercial areas of the district where the squares have been completely or partially lost.

  • The district’s boundaries have diminished integrity, especially the western boundary.

Earlier this month, the National Park Service clarified that Savannah's National Historic Landmark District was not in danger of losing its status. Despite the outdated rating, the NPS says currently, the district has a satisfactory rating.

In tonight's meeting, Carey said the contradictory findings should not be the focus. He said, "We can get defensive about them or we can all jump in there and roll up our sleeves and figure out how to get off whatever status we're on, with the exception of satisfactory of course."

Another resident contested, "I think it's time for the city council and the NPC to protect our heritage because they're gonna kill the goose that laid the golden egg, and sometimes I wonder, is it just all about money?"

The public can learn more about the current review of the Savannah National Historic Landmark district by visiting https://go.nps.gov/savannah

Additionally, the NPS will hold public forums to present their findings and accept feedback. The NPS will also be taking the private study conducted in March into account. The public forums will be held on May 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. and May 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Planning Commission, Mendosa Hearing Room, located at 112 E State St, Savannah, GA 31401.

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