SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As Savannah moves to utilize vast wetlands in Chatham County to establish logistics parks, tracking the monetary contributions of council members provides some insight into the rapid industrialization in the area.
“You have city council members receiving campaign funds from individuals who are developers who want their way,” said Post 1 At-Large Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter.
As of July 6, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson has made over $38,500 in campaign contributions from construction, hotel, real estate and freight companies alone. District 6 Alderman Kurtis Purtee received around $10,000, and District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo received around $7,250 in corporate contributions this year.
Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Estella Shabazz of District 5 received $7,300 from construction and development companies. $3,300 came from the CEO of Capital Development Partners, John Knox Porter.
Porter oversees the construction of the mega warehouse Rockingham Farms which sparked a movement from community members rejecting the development called Don’t Box Buckhalter In.
Following the backlash, Porter told News 3: “If you’re saying you’re 3 to 5 miles away and you’re offended that the city is building facilities that house jobs, and we’re doing it in a safe and effective way, why would you have an issue with that?”
“I bet this doesn’t happen to his neighborhood,” said Gibson-Carter on the issue.
“They have no representation and because it’s not fully annexed, they are not represented by the City of Savannah,” the alderwoman continued. “You have a whole group of people who have been railroaded.”
She warns about the dangers of pollution, noise and traffic residents face in rural communities when the industry moves in, plus a dwindling population of police and firefighters, which could increase possible risks.
“We are living in a time and space in Chatham County where growth and development will happen and we embrace growth, but we want compassionate growth and growth that makes sense,” said Gibson-Carter.
She wants developers to come to the table to negotiate how to prioritize community elements.
“This is happening all over the county. The city continues to annex property and have it rezoned, and typically our biggest issue is with the industrial rezoning,” said Amanda Wilson, a Ted Newton Road resident and member of the Greater Bloomingdale Neighborhood Alliance.
Wilson told News 3 that a developer from The Foxfield Company stated that the 740 acres behind their street would become an equestrian center, which residents welcomed. Once the land was rezoned to light industrial and leveled, residents were then told a warehouse will be built instead.
“These residents around the site have been here for 10 to 30 years, and have never experienced anything like that, except when they started developing that piece of property,” said Wilson.
After leveling in 2019, the area began to flood.
Wilson states that her neighbors have to pump their septic tank out every three months with clean water to combat muddy water in their homes.
“They can’t flush their toilets and mud is backing up into their washing machines because of the groundwater and flooding issues that this site has caused,” said Wilson.
The Savannah Economic Development Authority, SEDA, is looking to install the Savannah Chatham Manufacturing Center, which like many logistic parks in Savannah will support the Hyudai Metaplant.
News 3 reached out the District 7 Chatham County Commissioner Dean Kicklander, who stated: “Our hands are tied because Savannah annexed the land so they control all zoning and all development within their city limits.”
Kicklander understands the importance of infrastructure and commercial development but notes that there needs to be a good mixture of residential spaces as well.
“However, it’s easy to understand why residents would not want heavy industrial developments located next to their houses,” Kicklander.
“I would like for…all of Chatham County to know what’s going on, to shed light on this,” said Wilson. “I think it will pressure the city officials and leaders to do the right thing.”