Today, a second lawsuit was filed against the controversial Starland Village multi-use project set for the Thomas Square area — this one against City officials for allowing the project to go forward.
This lawsuit, filed by Thomas Square resident Stephen Argue, alleges among other things that the City is not fully compliant with state law, since there is no dedicated review board for any of Savannah's official historic districts other than the Historic Landmark District downtown.
"Starland Village should, according to state law, be subject to a historic district review commission overseeing the Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District," Argue tells Connect Savannah.
Currently, such a dedicated review board doesn't exist. Certificates of Appropriateness (COAs) for new construction are instead granted by authority of the Metropolitan Planning Commission.
"The City has every right to ask for Certificates of Appropriateness" for construction in historic districts, allows Argue.
But his lawsuit maintains that the absence of a state-required review board for Thomas Square means the current Certificate of Appropriateness for Starland Village — personally administered late last month by City Manager Rob Hernandez — is invalid.
Currently, buildings in the National Historic Landmark District, north of Thomas Square, are subject to the Historic District Board of Review.
The lawsuit also alleges that the City is not compliant with state law with regards to Requests for Proposal (RFPs) to purchase City-owned property.
"Georgia code says that in the RFP process, real property must be sold to the 'highest responsible bidder,'" Argue says.
Starland Village developer Foram Group was allowed to purchase a surplus police precinct despite failing to make the highest bid in two separate rounds of RFPs.
Argue concedes that the success of that portion of the lawsuit rests on what the actual definition of "highest responsible bidder" is taken to mean. Currently, the City of Savannah awards RFPs according to a scoring matrix which takes into account other aspects of a proposal besides just the offered price.
If successful, the lawsuit would have far-reaching implications both for future transactions by the City, in addition to potentially affecting past transactions as well, beyond just Starland Village.
"If the court agrees that the City of Savannah has failed to fulfill its duty, that certainly would have some effect," Argue says.
Argue's suit also alleges that the City provided improper notice of the police precinct RFP, and that City Council's vote approving a zoning text amendment allowing Starland Village to proceed under CIV zoning was invalid because it violated process under state law.
A previous lawsuit by several residents, filed in April and dismissed in June, alleged that the Metropolitan Planning Commission, which permitted a zoning amendment paving the way for Starland Village, was improperly constituted.