SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah City Council has approved a special use permit allowing the Salvation Army to build transition housing in West Savannah.
The council did amend the motion Thursday to include an archaeological review. If evidence is found that the area is part of the historic Weeping Time land, the city will not move forward with the permit.
The housing development has hit several roadblocks, largely due to its proximity to the largest recorded sale of enslaved people in United States history.
Thursday’s hearing was meant to be closed to public comment, but several West Side Savannah citizens still showed up to city hall to give their two cents.
“This is very personal to these 30 some people who have come down today, including me,” remarked Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier, who has adamantly opposed putting the shelter in her district.
Council members went back and forth about allowing public comment before eventually deciding to let one person from each side speak for 10 minutes.
“We have people who were very likely the offspring of the very people who got sold, who are basically willing to tread upon the memory of their ancestors,” said Reverend Leonard Small, who represented the opposition.
“This land is sacred,” he added.
Major Paul Egan with the Salvation Army says the site would provide much-needed resources to the community and, to his knowledge, would not sit on sacred land.
“I believe that we would be a blessing to that neighborhood and that neighborhood would be a blessing to us,” said Egan.
The Housing Authority, who owns the 12 acre plot says after conducting an environmental review they found no evidence that the land had any historical significance.
In Thursday’s meeting, Lanier countered the original findings saying older maps from the state’s archives tell a different story.
“This is our only time to get this right we need a professional archeologist to determine for us if the property is the sacred property,” said Lanier.
“If we get this wrong then we will have a homeless shelter sitting on a national treasure,” she added.
Mayor Van Johnson says up until this point all the facts he was given pointed to the site having no tie to the historical Weeping Time Land.
“I think we want to get it right,” remarked Johnson, “but obviously if we don’t know for sure then we find out.”
The motion passed 5-4 with Alderwoman Lanier, Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter, Alderwoman Alicia Blakely, and Alderwoman Estella Shabazz all voting against the proposal.
“The mere fact that there is a question, we should abandon all of this,” said Gibson-Carter.
Some council members have also voiced concerns about the area’s high poverty rate, saying the new development would only set West Savannah up for failure.
Meanwhile, Salvation Army officials have said the Augusta Avenue property is key to helping the community. Without the permit for the land, it would set them back for years.
The city manager says the review could take between two and four months. He says he will be working alongside the Housing Authority to begin the process.