Savannah Morning News
September 10, 2008
By Mary Landers
Connected and Canopied, New Fellwood Takes Shape
Former Housing Project will be Green, Mixed Use Development
Savannah, GA – Fellwood Homes, the first housing project in Savannah, was built in 1939 to be separate from the surrounding community.
And it was.
Its roads prevented traffic from flowing through easily. Its building faced inward. Its residents were all low-income.
Click here to watch a tree spade move palm trees at Sustainable Fellwood.
Site work began late last month on the new “Sustainable Fellwood.”
Its public and private partners want Sustainable Fellwood to turn around that sense of separateness to make it the integral heart of its West Savannah neighborhood.
Contractors have been moving palm trees and readying the foundations for buildings in the first phase of the environmentally friendly project, which will include 110 apartments, a clubhouse, an organic community garden and a 4-acre park.
Fellwood’s former residents shed few tears over the housing project’s closure in 2003, but many from there and the surrounding neighborhood want to come back, said Earline Davis, executive director of the Housing Authority of Savannah.
Davis grew up in West Savannah; her parents operated a confectionary near the projects.
Her former neighbors are keenly interested in Sustainable Fellwood.
“There are people who bug me every time they see me,” Davis said. “The ability to reconnect in a space that’s attractive, affordable and livable – that’s the trifecta.”
She already has a list of interested residents she’ll contact when completion nears. The Housing Authority won’t manage the apartments, Davis said. That will be the responsibility of a private company, though the authority will retain ownership of the land.
The housing downturn never slowed the development’s plans, said Curry Wadsworth of Parallel Housing, a partner with the master developer, Melaver Inc.
“There’s no slump in people who need affordable housing,” said Wadsworth, whose nonprofit Parallel Housing helped obtain about $8 million in low-income housing tax credits to make the first phase of the project feasible. “They’re going to come because it’s affordable and new.”
The eventual number of public housing income-eligible apartments will be reduced at this site from Fellwood Homes’ high of 303 to 100. (Only 108 families lived in Fellwood when it closed in 2004, Davis said. And credits for those 303 units were distributed around the city, so the new Fellwood represents a net gain of 100 public housing units.) Former residents who meet income and other requirements will have first dibs on the initial set of new, affordable digs, slated to be move-in ready by next summer.
What they’ll find is the first neighborhood in Savannah and the fourth in the state certified by the national nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. The certification process rates neighborhoods by looking at features such as density, proximity to transit, mix of residential and commercial space, mix of housing types and pedestrian friendliness.
Ultimately, redeveloping all of Fellwood at once gives Lott and his partners a rare opportunity in a city like Savannah, where the development pattern has been small-scale and whole blocks are only a half acre.
“It’s a 26-acre open space right in the middle of a community in need of redevelopment, blessed with a wonderful canopy of existing trees,” Lott said. “In comparison, building this kind of project in the past would normally be done on the outskirts of town, where the amount of available land could be found affordably.
“It’ll be a big change in a small community.”
Later phases will see the addition of retail stores along the park, a senior citizen apartment building and more mixed-income, multi-family housing. Streets will connect to the surrounding neighborhood. Single-family homes will fill in on the site’s southern boundary, Richards Street, complementing the existing homes on the block.
That’s all a change from the project that preceded it.
But 121 things will stay the same in Fellwood: the mature trees. Magnificent live oaks, palms arched with age and sturdy magnolias dot the site. Roads and buildings have been designed and then redesigned to accommodate the trees. Porous pavement will surround others so their roots won’t be smothered.
Certified arborists working with the Savannah’s Park and Tree Department and the Savannah Tree Foundation determined 21 existing trees were too diseased to remain. They’ll each be replaced with one or two new trees. Plans call for dozens of other new live oak and canopy trees on site, too.
The mature trees will be a rare and valuable asset in a newly built development, said Diane Houston, president of the Savannah Tree Foundation. They’ll clean the air, manage the stormwater and reduce the energy used to cool the buildings.
“It’s actually incredible,” she said. “So many developers are ready to go in and bulldoze and start afresh, then they don’t have the expense of designing around trees.”
The attention to trees is more usual in a high-end development, said Dale Thorpe, also of the Savannah Tree Foundation.
“Putting the emphasis on trees is a huge step forward,” she said. “It just shows that trees enhance the beauty of our community and have a positive economic and psychological impact.”