SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Much of Savannah’s story, which dates back to the 17th century, is told through its buildings. The city is trying to help preserve some of the historic sites by revising its demolition policy.
In December 2021, News 3 brought you to Bethel A.M.E Church on East Broad Street as it was being torn down. Following the church’s removal, the city revised its policy for buildings like that one outside of a historic district. It requires building observations to be shared with the Metropolitan Planning Commission and Historic Savannah Foundation.
Ryan Arvay, the foundation’s director of preservation and historic properties, explained the revised policy “pushes pause” and allows the two organizations to determine the significance of the building and meet with the property owner.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Arvay said. “HSF would like to see changes to the zoning ordinances though. I think we would like to see something enshrined in ordinance or local law that maybe would provide for more protections to buildings.”
Down the road in Savannah’s downtown historic district is 9 Lincoln St., built in 1853. A judge in recorder court ordered the building to be demolished based on a structural engineer’s findings that the building is “dangerous and unsound,” according to meeting records.
During the vote in early February, members of the Historic District Board of Review said it was not their desire to demolish it and they “wish additional efforts were made for alternative plans,” meeting records said.
“The court decision supersedes the local review process which is unfortunate,” Arvay said. “We don’t think it should be that way.”
The city’s director of planning and urban design said they plan to continue building on the new policy to create more robust protection for all historic buildings.
“It’s our first step in trying to provide more transparency to the community and to do more to protect that vital history that we have,” Bridget Lidy said.
“It’s important for people to understand that just because you walk through a landmark district and you see all these beautifully-restored homes and the squares doesn’t mean that things still aren’t vulnerable, that we still can’t lose important historic buildings downtown,” Arvay said. “We can.”
Unlike the church torn down in December, the Lincoln Street building will be reconstructed — meaning the historic materials will be saved. That was a condition of the Historic District Board. The property is owned by Savannah Hotel Investors.