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This story is part of First City Progress, a weekly series looking at development in Savannah and the Coastal Empire. If there are projects you’re curious about, email Zoe at [email protected]
More than 300 acres zoned for agricultural use in West Chatham have been rezoned, paving the way for commercial space, a practice ice hockey rink for the Ghost Pirates and industrial warehouses to fill up the fast-developing land west of I-95.
The tract is located on Fort Argyle Road, just west of I-95, and sits between the lightly developed area near the interstate and rural, residential neighborhoods beyond. The property is near the rapidly developing area of West Chatham, where large subdivisions and industrial projects have been approved in recent months.
The property will be developed in three distinct parts, according to the developer’s lawyer, Harold Yellin. A portion of about 100 acres fronting Fort Argyle Road was rezoned as commercial by the Metropolitan Planning Commission last week. About half of that parcel is wetlands, so will not be developed.
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The middle parcel will be home to an indoor hockey complex where the semi-professional hockey team, the Savannah Ghost Pirates, will practice. The property’s developer, Wynn Cowan, is part-owner of the team. The sports complex will be modeled after Jacksonville’s The Igloo and will be open to the public for free skating, youth leagues, camps and adult hockey leagues. The developer is interested in building soccer fields on the complex, but is still in the negotiation phase for that piece of the project, according to Yellin.
The back third of the property, about 150 acres, was rezoned for light-industrial uses, mainly warehouses. Warehousing is a booming development trend in Chatham County, with occupancy rates close to 100% and companies needing places to store goods as they arrive to the Port of Savannah.
All three parcels of the property were rezoned unanimously by the MPC, with the caveats that a 100-foot buffer be built between the property and neighboring residences, and that the developer submit a masterplan and development plan to the MPC for approval before permitting can begin.
Neighbors, alderwoman fear area developing too rapidly
Several residents and Savannah Alderwoman at-large Kiesha Gibson-Carter spoke out against the project — not in complete opposition — but in a plea to slow down the approval process for such a large tract in a largely undeveloped area.
Speaking to the MPC, Gibson-Carter, who is one of two at-large alderwomen in the city, said West Chatham is rapidly developing, and ordinances and infrastructure improvements are lagging behind widespread development.
“When these properties are annexed into our city, (we are) concerned about traffic, police, fire service, and recreational outlets for these communities that we do not address,” Gibson-Carter said at the May 24 meeting. “It simply becomes an afterthought.”
Apart from the commercial core near the I-95 interchange, Fort Argyle Road is largely agricultural land, with the exception of one warehouse. The rural character of the area must be protected, urged resident Karrie Bieber.
“This affects everybody in this area, not just those people within 200, 300, 500 feet of this property. We are going to be affected by the wetlands being taken away. Flooding, traffic, things along that line,” said Bieber, who was speaking on behalf of the West Chatham Community Watch, a grassroots groups of residents in the area.
Bieber said WCCW is concerned with the light, noise and water pollution the development will exact on the environment and neighborhood.
“When you live out in this rural area, those lights, the trees, the buffers, they turn into a whole other dimension you don’t get in the city,” she said.
Yellin, the developer’s lawyer, said he does not expect to go through the watch for every development, because they are not a formal neighborhood association, but promised to keep them in the loop moving forward.
“We’re not opposed to every single thing that comes out here, but we need to know what’s going on,” Bieber concluded. “And it’s only fair that somebody lets us speak and gets our feedback.”
Zoe covers growth and how it impacts communities in the Savannah area. Find her at [email protected], @zoenicholson_ on Twitter, and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram.