Savannah 2033: Urban Planning Done Right

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

Greek Proverb (probably)

Anyone involved in real estate should keep his or her finger on the pulse of future development, and I’m downright excited about the plan for development leading to our city’s 300 year anniversary in 2033. I could write ten posts about this plan and I will write a few more as I parse through the plan, but for now here’s a quick summary from my notes from the September 17th community meeting the city held about the plan. Anyone who is serious about investing in Savannah should probably just go read it though. I’d like to note that I may drop by to revise some parts of this write up as I go through with reading the full plan, and I invite anyone who disagrees with something I stated to let me know in the comments. Here goes:

There are five design priorities in this plan:

  • Expand downtown in a logical, connected fashion to the east and the west.
  • Inject Savannah’s signature, beautiful public space design into more neighborhoods.
  • Connect it all with active transportation.
  • Prioritize quality of life over commuting time.
  • Legalize Savannah’s historic building types.

What do these priorities mean in plain English?

  • Right now, MLK and East Broad are kind of the hard borders of “downtown.” The 15 year plan aims to expand what we know and think of as “downtown” west out to the the canal district and east out to the Truman Parkway.
  • You know how many squares and how much green there is “downtown”? How easy it is to walk around? That’s what they want to do everywhere else north of 52nd street – kind of.
  • They want to make Savannah more bike and walk friendly, even as far out as the mall and southside Savannah.
  • It’ll take you longer to get from I-16 to the Truman (if you’re north of 52nd st), but it’ll be nicer to live in the neighborhoods you have to cut through to make that commute. Parking is also a lower priority than quality of life in the neighborhoods; planners hope to encourage more commuters to park near I-16 and Truman off-ramps and take shuttles (like the DOT shuttle) into downtown.
  • Change the zoning ordinances to make it easy to develop residential and mixed use in the multi-family space. That is, more duplexes, mixed use residential/commercial, quads, townhomes, etc. This is already pretty much complete with the new zoning that went into effect this September.
The overall 2033 master plan. Notice the large public spaces in the east and west, the bike trails that will run along the railroad (cutting diagonally across the map) and along Truman Parkway. Also, the MLK ramp will be removed, allowing for another walkable/driveable connection to West Savannah.

West Downtown Expansion

A picture’s worth a thousand words, see below for the 2033 plans out west. Of note, the I-16 ramp over MLK will go away, as will the civic center. These will be turned into green public spaces and allow for the canal district to be more easily connected to the city center. The Kayton/Frazier area will also be improved much like at Savannah Gardens.

East Savannah Expansion

Again, check out the diagram. Notice that the low-lying areas will be turned into a kind of undeveloped park. East broad will go two-way and main thoroughfares here will be made to be more like Oglethorpe and Liberty are downtown. Atlantic Ave will become more pedestrian friendly, and the plan calls for more public spaces along Waters, like a proposed Saturday market at the city-owned parking lot at Waters and 37th.

Mid-City

The area from 37th south to 52nd is also slated for revitalization. Included in the plans are a cross-town bike trail parallel to the train tracks, improvements to Bull Street, and “Victory Park”, which will require re-routing of Victory Drive and 43rd Street between MLK and Bull St.

Active Transportation Network

The 2033 plan is heavy on active transportation – bikes and walking. The plan proposes a city-wide active transportation network and will require conversion of some streets that are currently heavily trafficked (like Anderson). See below:

New Zoning

The city’s new zoning ordinance went into effect on September 1st, 2019 and is a big step towards the final goal of the 2033 plan. The 2033 plan calls for “legalizing Savannah’s historic buildings.” Many of the old multi-family structures and town homes violated the old zoning because of things like max occupancy, parking space regulations, and units per acre. The 2033 plan calls for more mixed use and more multi-family development. The plan also calls for easier permitting and more experimentation in land use outside of the historic district (Starland yard could be an example of the kind of experimentation that the plan wishes to encourage, but it seems experimentation in residential development is also on the table.) The mixed use theme is big too — the planners here want neighborhoods to include shops, public spaces, and gathering places all within walking distance. I’ll have a new post at some point going over the new zoning in much more detail.

Bottom Line

First of all, the city council hasn’t officially adopted this plan — that vote is scheduled for later this month. Assuming they do (which appears likely), they don’t even have to stick to the plan. I believe they will though because this plan was developed with cooperation and input from various stakeholders in the community and seems to be beneficial to pretty much everyone except folks who have to drive through town. This plan will definitely be a boon to real estate investors, homeowners, the city’s budget, and even most renters who will benefit from more livable neighborhoods and new development which will keep rents in check by increasing supply (in theory.)

How much do the city planners behind 2033 think their design recommendations will increase property valuations (and by association tax revenue to the city)?

…50% is on the very low end of what is possible. In fact, it’s more likely that in 2017 dollars values would be 150-200% higher if the Plan is followed

Downtown Savannah 2033, page 22.

That’s huge, and that’s exactly why I and so many investors I know are zeroed in on buying run-down buildings east and west of downtown and renovating them now. If this plan is put into action, I believe property in places like Benjamin Van Clark, Cann Park, Live Oak, and parts of West Savannah to double in value much like property in Starland and the blocks east and west of Forsyth have done in the last decade. Keep your eye out for follow-up posts here on the blog, and as always, if you have any questions or comments leave one below or find me on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Savannah 2033: Urban Planning Done Right

  1. Great info on the future development of downtown Savannah. My biggest question is how will traffic get from west to east sides of Savannah? We all know how bad traffic is on Bay Street now. Where will that traffic go and which unfortunate neighborhood will bear the brunt of that impact?

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    1. Hey Jeff, that’s a great question. The plan as I understand it is to build more parking on the outskirts of town and encourage folks to use free shuttles like the DOT shuttle to get around downtown. The other thought is that “networks” work better than a couple large thoroughfares. I’m still reading through the plan to see exactly what they mean by that and how they’d accomplish it, maybe I’ll write up a post about that in the next couple weeks.

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