Bill Durrence's List of Achievements as Alderman
An issue I brought up in my 2015 campaign for Council was a sense that there was no coordinated, long-term planning by the City and too many decisions were made without context. While there are a lot of good ideas that come to us, there is only so much we can afford to do. We established the Savannah Forward Strategic Plan and now every proposal must support the priorities we detailed.
2nd District Improvement Fund
Some things we’ve done are little known but important. One I’m especially proud of is our 2nd District Improvement Fund. In a visit to a constituent’s home one day I realized that many of our residents sometimes have small repair issues that could be taken care of for a couple of hundred dollars, but that resident may be a senior citizen living on a small fixed income and simply cannot afford even that amount, so the repair does not get made. And then it eventually becomes a big and expensive repair. Through the generosity of a couple of anonymous benefactors we put $7500 in a fund managed by the City’s housing department to provide $200-$500 grants to help those 2nd District residents. The housing department now can make a direct grant or use that resource to provide matching funds for a larger grant from another source to help with more expensive repairs. And, BTW, that fund could use some replenishing if anyone here is feeling philanthropic.
Public Safety was the biggest concern in the community in 2015 with 48 homicides in the city. We worked to get full staffing on the police force which allows us to do more community policing and slowly saw improvements.
A 40% drop in homicides from 2015 to 2018.
Part 1 (violent) crimes dropped 20% from 2015 to 2018, with 2018 being the fewest number ever reported since the Uniform Crime Report started in 1985, a 35-year low.
We created a Traffic Enforcement Division, a Cold Case unit, and a Domestic Violence Unit, and have a homicide clearance rate higher than the national average. We’ve added additional security cameras.
A 2019 report through the 2nd Quarter is available to review in PDF form by clicking here.
We have developed a process for tackling larger contentious issues which brings together various stakeholders to hammer out agreements. It’s a messy, sometimes frustrating, usually time-consuming process but eventually leads to compromise solutions no one loves completely but most can support.
Hotel Overlay District
We created a Hotel Overlay which established definitions for large and small hotels and laid out specifically where each type can and can’t be built going forward, to help protect residential neighborhoods downtown.
When we took office, I learned that our zoning requirements for apartment buildings were a dis-incentive to building multifamily housing. We changed those regulations and we are now building more apartment buildings than hotel projects.
Short-Term Vacation Rentals
We updated the Short-Term Vacation Rental ordinance to establish a cap on the growth of that use in residential areas.
We just passed the New Zoning Ordinance, a vitally needed update to our 59-year-old, convoluted and confusing original Zoning Ordinance.
Our complete Municipal Code will be uploaded into an online, searchable database bringing a level of accessibility and transparency to the City’s regulatory documents never before available.
Just as we were taking office in 2016, the 1st phase of the Waters Avenue Streetscape Project, from 37th to Anderson, was starting, in hopes of energizing redevelopment of that corridor. We learned a lot in that phase which we applied to our efforts when we started on Phase 2 from Anderson to Wheaton, and which we are now finishing two months ahead of schedule.
We’ve included enough funding in the SPLOST list on the ballot this fall to do Phase 3, from 37th to Victory, and finish the full project, and we are seeing the changes we hoped for starting to happen. Privately funded rehabilitation of the Romana Riley school into senior housing will see its first tenants move in in September, and more housing at the north end of Waters on Wheaton is coming.
Food Trucks Ordinance
We approved a long-delayed Food Truck ordinance in response to numerous requests
Tomochichi Courthouse Annex
We challenged the Federal government to replace their initial design for a new Tomochichi Courthouse Annex with something more appropriate to the Landmark Historic District, kept President Street open, and stopped construction of a surface parking lot.
Return to the Oglethorpe Plan
We renegotiated the sale of the property at Oglethorpe and Habersham to restore the lane in the new apartment-not hotel-development.
We remapped the free downtown shuttle from a route that served few people to one that benefits residents, visitors, and downtown workers alike. The Forsyth route has a ridership more than double the busiest fixed route bus service, and it’s made it possible for people to park in less expensive areas and keep some traffic out of the central business district.
Implemented a pilot program for a free on-demand ride-share service called Downtowner, available from 5 PM to 5 AM to provide safe transportation for late night service industry workers and others.
Bike Infrastructure and Pedestrian Safety
We have increased our pedestrian infrastructure and street safety efforts with flashing warning lights at pedestrian crossings, and refurbished the bike lanes on Lincoln and Price, painting bike lanes green. The bike lane for Wheaton and Liberty Streets is moving forward and we included $1 million in the SPLOST list to seed the Tides to Town pathways system.
In my position as Council representative to the MPO I was able to secure $2 million of orphaned funds to help with the City’s portion of the Truman Linear Trail and the Delesseps bike pathway, money that would otherwise have gone back to the state.
Blighted Property Mitigation
We created a blight tax with a 7x multiplier to encourage blighted property owners to either take better care of their property or sell it to someone who will. We led the state in efforts to revise the Eminent Domain laws so we could clean up blighted properties that are detrimental to neighborhoods, get them in the hands of people who will take care of them, and back on the tax rolls.
I am the Council appointment to the Chatham Area Transit (CAT) Board, and I joined that board right after CAT’s executive director had been arrested and charged with Federal crimes. CAT’s survival was in question then, with an aging fleet and substantial debt.
Today, we have paid off the long-term debt, and our bills are paid up to date. We have replaced about half of the fixed bus route fleet and most of the paratransit fleet, and we are purchasing our first all-electric buses, moving toward eventually having an entire no-emissions fleet. And we have a cash reserve for the first time ever in CAT’s history of over $1 million.