One of the most ambitious projects the City of Savannah has embarked upon in any area recently is CHSA Development Inc., better known as Savannah Gardens.
Located on the site of the old Strathmore Estates neighborhood on the Eastside, this new mixed housing development on 44 acres of “grayfield” will, when finished, feature 550 total units, comprising 120 single–family homes with the balance as multi–family rentals and live/work space.
People have been moving into their new digs there over the last six months. Just as important as adding to the city’s stock of affordable housing— and more relevant to Earth Day — is the fact that the entire development is a certified Earthcraft Coastal Community.
The single–family homes in the development rely on geothermal heat and air. Landscaping incorporates native and drought–tolerant flora watered in part by rain barrels mounted on repurposed material from the old Strathmore Estates.
We spoke to City of Savannah Sustainable Housing Coordinator Garrison Marr about Savannah Gardens, wondering if this level of city investment in green initiatives is unusual for a city as small as Savannah.
“Well, I come from the Seattle area, so for cities this market size out there it might actually be usual,” says Marr. “But it’s certainly more unusual in the South. I would say we’re pretty exceptional! Maybe that critical mass has been reached where it’s sort of gotten into the local political process, and we can have that be a part of the community dialogue.”
Marr says Savannah Gardens addresses “the entire menu of the sustainable world”: water consumption, energy consumption, design, and greenspace.
“We do energy modeling based on the average year, and these houses are coming in at about 100 bucks a month on their electric bill. They’re all electric, all inclusive.”
Marr says the really huge efficiency gains are in geothermal heating and cooling.
“It costs about 300–400 dollars a year. That comes to about a dollar a day to cool your house. Also there are measures like making sure all the ductwork is inside the roofing envelope.”
Single–family homes are selling for between $140,000–$150,000, about 1100–1350 square feet.
So should small private investors be annoyed that the City is using taxpayer dollars to push projects which might essentially compete with the private sector, which doesn’t have the advantage of tax dollars?
“The City uses SPLOST funds mostly to create that public infrastructure. We’re sort of creating the bones of the neighborhood,” says Marr. “We also offer developer financing for the single family component. We currently have a mix of developers, both private and nonprofit.
“There’s a community benefit in improving what’s adjacent to existing properties. And the City’s financing assistance is not limited to people in this development. And in a general sense everybody benefits from quality housing stock, from not pushing out the people who live and work in a community.”