Savannah City Council approves One West Victory development

One West Victory, with plans for 121 apartments as well as a relatively small amount of commercial space at the corner of Victory Drive and Bull Street, won fairly easy approval at today’s City Council meeting. I’m a little surprised by the investment that Jamestown and Greenstreet Properties is willing to make there, but I’m generally thrilled about it.

Council was fairly enthusiastic about the development, despite various concerns. (The Savannah Morning News editorial page was enthusiastic about the project too.)

The development was approved 8-1 with only alderman-at-large Tom Bordeaux voting against it.

Council member Mary Ellen Sprague expressed particular concern about the appearance of the parking garage. She focused on concerns of Ardsley residents, but few of those will even be able to see the parking garage, which begins about 50′ down the tracks across Bull Street, behind existing buildings on Bull. I’m more concerned about how it will look from the north side of Victory Drive, which would seem prime for revitalization given this investment on the south side of the street.

The key objections from the community had to do with the needs of Guerry Lumber just south of the site and concerns regarding the perceived lack of planning for parking, but the developer is putting in considerably more off-street spaces than code requires. I understand why someone would be concerned about that issue, but there’s little to be done when it meets legal requirements. And there’s ample reason to think that the site has plenty of planned parking.

Still, alderman-at-large Tom Bordeaux echoed questions and concerns about that parking, as a prelude to voting against the development. Somewhat contradictorily, the lawyer Bordeaux later seemed to get hung up on the lack of a legal requirement for 24-hour staffing of the site but seemed prepared to dismiss the legal requirements for parking.

Among the comments from the community, I was particularly struck by Sheila Edwards, who lives in the Metropolitan Neighborhood across Victory Drive, who noted that visitors to the building are likely to park across Victory — and that she would welcome the additional foot traffic.

Realtor Austin Hill correctly noted that one result of infill projects like this is to reduce car-dependency, not increase it.

Aldermen Estella Shabazz, Van Johnson, Tony Thomas, Mary Osborne, and (a long-winded) mayor Edna Jackson expressed particular enthusiasm for the project.

My main issues with the development only have to do with the site plan and the way the development meets the street.

As you can see in the map below (a cap of the image from the general development plan on the MPC website), the key corner of Bull and Victory will have green space, a wall, and a view of the parking garage. The retail and commercial — a small amount in the big picture of the site as a whole — won’t be on that highly visible corner but across from the end of Whitaker Street.

It’s a really tricky site, though, because of the angle created by the railroad tracks. Perhaps it was simply impossible to create an economically viable plan that pushed the commercial uses to the corner where they really should go (and where they’d have the best chance for prosperity). In any case, as I have previously said publicly, the community does not get to design projects if they meet existing ordinance requirements.

My design concerns did not come up at today’s council meeting.

I wish there had been more direct questions about population density: more density — like that provided here — in these core neighborhoods of the city will have great benefits for safety, for cultural opportunities, and for economic development.

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