The Savannah City Council decided Thursday to leave three properties bordering Forsyth Park out of a zone in the Victorian District that shields certain properties from demolition. By leaving the properties outside of what is called the Victorian District Contributing Resources map, these properties remain unprotected from demolition.
The final vote count was 7-2, with Post 1 At-Large Alderwomen Kesha Gibson-Carter and At-Large Post 2 Alderwomen Alicia Miller Blakely voting to designate the properties as contributing resources. The properties sit at 1001 Whitaker St., 1015 Whitaker St., and 124 West Park Avenue, along the southwest corner of Forsyth Park.
“The council has to be able to balance the need to retain that which needs to be retained,” said Mayor Van Johnson, “and to also make sure that we are addressing our future and pressing needs.”
The item came before council after the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) recommended the three structures be designated as contributing structures on July 26. The item went to committee because the owner of all three properties petitioned for their demolition.
The Contributing Resources Map was adopted by City Council in 1981, and a 2019 update to the city’s zoning ordinance allows changes to it for resources with “exceptional” historic and architectural importance.
The building at 124 W. Park Ave. was the location of Sidney A. Jones Funeral Home, which historically was a prominent funeral home for Savannah’s African American community. It is now the Campbell & Sons Funeral Home.
Blakely and Gibson-Carter noted the historical significance as justification for the location’s protection. Blakely said much of her passed family was eulogized at the building, and Gibson-Carter said those familiar with the location understand the significance goes beyond architecture.
“The value of the people far exceeds any physical element of the building itself,” Gibson-Carter said.
The decision made by the council was supported by the Victorian Neighborhoods Association, which conducted focus groups with residents about whether the buildings should be designated contributing resources. Public comment was generally split, but those who supported the council’s decision said the midcentury-era buildings on Whitaker Street do not match the character of the neighborhood.
Other council items
The council also approved on Thursday up to $7.2 Million for continued fare-free rides on Chatham Area Transit’s DOT Express Shuttle. The DOT is the city’s most-used route, said City Manager Joseph A. “Jay” Melder.
The approval extends the free rides for three additional years. The DOT shuttle provides public transportation through downtown, Carver Village and Cloverdale.
“This provides an opportunity, for particularly our seniors, to have reliable transportation, safe transportation particularly to the downtown core and other places around the city that CAT serves,” Johnson said.
The funding will increase each year of the three-year period. Half of year one’s expense of $2.1 million is covered in full by about $1 million in unexpected revenues from the city’s Parking Fund.
The measure passed 6-1 after Gibson-Carter and Blakely left before the vote. The lone opposition was from District 1 Alderwomen Bernetta Lanier. Before leaving, Gibson-Carter and Blakely also criticized the measure.
Lanier said she doesn’t understand why free transit is being provided to the wealthiest parts of town.
The council also moved to enter a partnership with the Galvan Foundation to renovate the historic Kiah House in Savannah’s Cuyler-Brownville neighborhood. The measure provides up to $500,000 for its acquisition and renovation.
“I think this is a tremendous opportunity,” said Melder said.
The Kiah House was the home of African-American artist Virginia Jackson Kiah, and renovations will focus on making the house a place to showcase African American artists, Melder said. The Galvan Foundation is a New York-based nonprofit which also invested approximately $6 million for affordable housing in the neighborhood.
Evan Lasseter is the city and county government reporter for Savannah Morning News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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