Not since LSU routed Tulane 62-0 has the Uptown university been kicked around so soundly. I'm talking about the City Council's decision to sidetrack Tulane's plans for a football stadium on its campus.
Tulane's proposed 25,000-seat stadium (with standing room for another 5,000) is all the rage Uptown, pitting the university against many of its well-heeled neighbors. There are good arguments on both sides, so the council did what politicians do best with a political football: it punted.
At its May 3 meeting, the council voted 4-2 to create an interim zoning district, or IZD, which put Tulane's plans on hold. Now the City Planning Commission will study the idea of a special zoning district that would affect not only Tulane but also Loyola and Xavier universities. What the council really wants is for Tulane and its neighbors to reach a compromise, thereby relieving the council of having to choose between the city's largest employer and scads of voters.
Tulane notes that its proposed stadium comports with existing zoning laws and requires no variances. Neighbors answer that the stadium does not comply with a proposed Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO), which syncs with the city's new master plan. The CZO is expected to be adopted in the coming months, but it is not yet the law. Given the years of work that went into the master plan and the zoning ordinance, neighbors feel Tulane should try to comply with the forthcoming standards.
The differences in the standards are stark. The current zoning requires a mere 20-foot setback from the stately homes on Audubon Boulevard, whereas the new zoning ordinance would require a 100-foot setback. Tulane's plan reflects current standards.
Other issues include noise levels, lights, traffic and parking congestion, and uses other than football that might create traffic.
Most of all, neighbors complain that Tulane has kept them in the dark about its plans. They want a seat at the table, or at least a chance to air their concerns and get them addressed.
Tulane officials deny trying to hide the ball and say they already have made concessions. Yvette Jones, Tulane's vice president, notes that the stadium's height along Audubon Boulevard has been reduced from about 60 feet to 48 feet. "That's the equivalent of Tilton Hall on Claiborne Avenue, which also has a 20-foot setback," Jones says.
Jones adds that much of the pushback from neighbors is the result of "questions raised that we didn't have the answers to." She says as Tulane gets deeper into the design phase of the project, it will be able to address neighbors' concerns.
For example, she says, the traffic study is not yet complete. The university expects it to be finished by June 1, after which Tulane can meet with neighbors and discuss alternatives.
As for other uses, Jones flatly denies that Tulane will host concerts in the stadium — a frequently voiced concern among neighbors. "We're building a stadium to play football. Can we use it for other things? Yes, we can have academic uses in the enclosed spaces," Jones says. "There will be interior spaces that we want to use for university functions. The field can be used for football practice, for club sports and the like. If we get a request for a high school championship game there, we could do that, but it would not be a likely place for weekly games."
There's no way Tulane can satisfy all of its neighbors, but clearly it can do a better job of getting its message out — and listening to neighborhood concerns. At the end of the day, neither side deserves to get routed.