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Editor's Note: When the lack of a plan is the plan
A Photoshopped rendering of the proposed new self-storage facility in the neighborhood near Whole Foods. - photo by Gretchen Hilmers

ONE OF the most common complaints about Savannah is that we have no strategic vision, no plan to manage growth.

The important thing to remember is that the lack of a plan is itself a plan.

When we have no overarching vision backed up by enforceable guidelines, then large developers and large corporations can get what they want on a case-by-case basis —a situation which serves their needs just fine, but not the public’s.

Case in point is the latest attempt by a developer to get a new five-story self-storage facility approved in the cozy but increasingly threatened little neighborhood behind Whole Foods.

Just three months ago, local regulators had to rule on a nearly identical plan for the facility proposed for Limerick Street.

That plan was turned down for two reasons: 1) Their vegetative buffer was insufficient; and 2) the self-storage facility was deemed too large and obtrusive a use for that small street.

Technically they aren’t supposed to be able to come back with the same plan for a year. But they got a variance to come before the Zoning Board of Appeals again just a few months later—Aug. 25, if you’re inclined to attend —apparently because they tweaked the vegetative buffer.

But regardless of the buffer, as you can see from the accompanying image, Limerick Street is still as small as it ever was, and still can’t reasonably host a facility this large. (Oddly, there is no height limit in that area, and the project’s overbearing height isn’t even up for discussion.)

Perhaps most crazy of all: The long-anticipated Truman Greenway multi-use trail is essentially set to end right where the big self-storage facility will be! Heck of a message to send.

“I’m stunned this is back before us again so soon. Both issues were thoroughly discussed at the last meeting. It’s mind-boggling to think they can just bring up the same thing again three months later,” says Stewart Dohrman, a Parkside resident and smart growth activist.

“A lot of people in these neighborhoods put in a lot of time and effort to go to meetings about this project,” Dohrman says. “Having to play whack-a-mole every few months with it isn’t fair to the citizens who take off work to go to all the meetings.”

Dohrman says the common sense approach would simply be for the City to “stop and wait for the results of the Victory Drive Corridor Study. The City has abdicated its responsibility. We have great planners, but the City needs to let them do their job.”

Well... let’s be careful what we wish for.

While sadly there’s no moratorium on new projects in the Victory Drive corridor, City staff is proposing a moratorium in another part of town—but a proposal which has folks scratching their heads.

Largely at the behest of outgoing City Manager Stephanie Cutter’s office, the City will attempt to address transportation safety issues on Bay Street by eliminating all on-street parking on that key east/west corridor for the entire month of September, as a test case.

The well-intentioned goal is to slightly widen the tight lanes of the historic avenue. Also tested will be some temporary “pedestrian refuges,” i.e. an ad hoc median, to discourage jaywalking.

(I thought it was a joke at first, but the medians will apparently be marked by orange traffic barrels! Literally the least attractive and reassuring design possible.)

But the very thing that makes Bay Street most unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists —the 18-wheeler trucks—will be allowed to continue using Bay Street.

The issue that most people agree is the single most pressing one with Bay Street isn’t being addressed at all.

In fact, the City’s “solution” seems to be to make it easier for traffic to go even faster on Bay Street by eliminating on-street parking and widening the available space for trucks and cars alike.

(For a take from a cyclist’s perspective, check out this week’s News Cycle column from guest contributor Julie Wade.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s no easy answer to trucks on Bay Street, a thoroughfare specifically reinforced and designated as a main truck route many years before Savannah’s tourist boom.

Look at the awful fatalities recently on I-16 to see what might happen if we reroute heavy trucks to say, DeRenne or the Truman, going 50-60 mph.

And we’re always complaining that Savannah needs to diversify beyond the tourism industry, right?

Well, truck traffic, ugly and smelly and noisy as it is, is a direct reflection of economic diversification.

But if we’re going to start experimenting with new ideas, it’s interesting to note that the single most logical experiment to improve safety on Bay Street—a one-month moratorium on tractor-trailer traffic—wasn’t proposed.

Why a lame-duck City Manager is allowed to flail around, with City Council support, on such a visibly flawed and counterintuitive notion is beyond me.

In any case, the larger picture remains, that the lack of a coherent strategy continues to be the elephant in the room. And until we address it, expect more half-baked ideas.