A new condominium building on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District received approval from city planners last week, while a larger condo project intended to replace an apartment complex at State and Tchoupitoulas streets was recommended for denial.
Meanwhile, city officials are waiting on more information about a new mixed-use development on Royal Street in Bywater, the redevelopment of the former Sara Mayo hospital in the Irish Channel and a similar development at the intersection of Washington Avenue and South Jefferson Davis Parkway in Gert Town.
All together, the projects represent nearly 800 new condo and apartment units in neighborhoods around the city — but the City Planning Commission and neighbors have objections, and the developers agree with some of them.
Phyllis Landrieu, a former Orleans Parish School Board member and the aunt of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, plans to replace two small homes at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and First Street with a 57-foot-tall building with 10 three-bedroom condo units inside and a pool and gym on top.
Landrieu and her supporters say the existing ranch-style homes are out of place on St. Charles Avenue, and that the proposed $5 million building will enhance the grand avenue.
"It amazes me that they ever allowed two ranch-style, Metairie-type homes to be built on that corner," said Greg Landrieu, her son. "Although they are very nice homes — my mother and father certainly enjoyed living there for the last 25 years — they're out of place, and it's time for them to go."
Landrieu's building would be adjacent to another condo complex in the same block, and it was residents of that building who provided the most opposition to her proposal. They said they had a petition of 90 neighbors in opposition, and argued that the proposed development will take up too much of the lot and be too close to their building.
"Along St. Charles, tall buildings detract from the ambience of the avenue," said Helen Ullrich, one of the opponents, suggesting that the nearby Louise S. McGehee School buildings be a good model for future height limits.
Andre Gaudin, president of the Garden District Association, said he understands there already are taller buildings on St. Charles Avenue, but he wants the trend to stop. "We are concerned that the avenue will become a fortress of buildings on either side," Gaudin said.
Planning Commission Chair Kyle Wedberg noted that the existing condo building on the block is larger than the one Landrieu proposes. While he said Gaudin brings up an issue that bears further discussion, he feels the Landrieu proposal is worth supporting. The commissioners voted 5-1 to recommend its approval.
At State and Tchoupitoulas streets, developer Jim MacPhaille would like to replace 13 red brick apartment buildings with a single condo structure with 49 units. Attorney Justin Schmidt said he has more than 500 letters supporting the project. Of the existing buildings, Schmidt said, "This is not the model we want for our city."
Keith Miller, a neighbor in support of the project, says crime, trash and other issues at the existing apartments have hindered the growth of the neighborhood. "The vast majority of the neighbors support the project in this area," added Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association member Evan Plauche.
Other neighbors were unenthusiastic. Tchoupitoulas Street resident Dara Hoell praised the angular orientation of MacPhaille's building on the lot, but said it would dwarf the surrounding homes.
"I don't think this is the model we want for the neighborhood," Hoell said.
MacPhaille's project also faced a more significant opponent: the city planning staff. Their report argued that the city's Master Plan classifies the area as residential low-density, and that in it, multi-family housing such as apartments can be preserved, but not torn down and replaced with new multi-family projects.
Commissioner Robert Steeg said while there is a consensus around removing the existing apartments, the Master Plan is clear that they should only be replaced with single- or two-family homes, and proposed accepting the staff's recommendation to deny the project. With that, they voted 6-1 to recommend denial, with Commissioner Nolan Marshall III the lone vote in MacPhaille's favor. After the meeting, he said he believed the commission has more discretion with regard to the master plan's requirements, since the condo project met all the other density regulations.
"I thought the developer did everything he could to try to accommodate the neighbors," Marshall said.
Both of the decisions by the City Planning Commission on St. Charles Avenue and on State Street will require final approval by the City Council.
A development consortium is proposing the redevelopment of the former Sara Mayo hospital on Jackson Avenue into a mixed-use project with 211 residential units and commercial space on the ground floor.
At a Sept. 22 meeting, members of the city planning staff said the project was a good use for the long-neglected former hospital, but the proposed density was too high. They said 111 units was a better number for the property, and proposed to delay a decision for 30 days for further negotiations with the developer.
Attorney Ed Suffern said his clients also are in favor of the deferral. They want to conduct more detailed research into how many rooms were in the former hospital, in case that figure has bearing on the density for the new project.
"We may have an entitlement by way of grandfathering," Suffern said.
Another major project pending before the City Planning Commission is the proposed Parkway Apartments at 4650 Washington Avenue, near the Blue Plate Artist Lofts. A developer wants to tear down the existing single-story building there and construct a five-story building with 228 apartments and 15,000 feet of ground-floor retail, as well as parking for more than 300 cars in a covered garage.
Each floor above the first will have more than 40 one-bedroom units and about 13 two-bedroom units. The second floor will have a rooftop courtyard and pool deck, according to the application. The apartments will rent for between $1,200 and $1,600 a month.
Like the other projects, the planning staff generally supported the plan but recommends reducing the density from the proposed 228 units down to 207. With little discussion, the planning commission deferred a decision on that project for 30 days.
On the edge of Bywater, near Royal and Press streets, developer Sean Cummings hopes to replace a warehouse complex with a project that — as presently planned — would include 260 residential units and 54,000 square feet of commercial shops and "maker spaces," with exterior murals by #ExhibitBe artist Brandan Odums. The project would add a second floor to one warehouse and demolish the other for buildings up to 75 feet tall, build a new road through the property from Dauphine Street to Chartres Street, and have 282 parking spaces in a garage on the Press Street side.
The application does not specify prices for the units, but it does tout the value of resident diversity, and notes the nearby Rice Mill Lofts are 12 percent families with children, 20 percent minorities and 30 percent working families — "diversity that by comparison exceeds the neighborhood demographics generally," it says. It also argues that the increased availability of housing will drive down market pressure on nearby homes.
The city planning staff praised a number of elements of the plan. It would bring new life to "underutilized warehouses," but the overall density of the project, the staff said, is simply too high, and the parking needs would overwhelm the neighborhood.
Cummings says while he set out to craft a building that is "super sensitive" to the neighborhood around it, he now agrees with the criticisms in the planning report and wants to revise his plans in the next month. After hearing more comments, the commission voted to defer a decision on the project.
Cummings said he originally envisioned a headquarters for the creative people of the neighborhood: those who build motorcycles, or run bakeries or digital studios.
"Maybe that idea went a little bit too far, and we have too much of that kind of space, which places too much demand on parking," Cummings said.
Although everyone involved agreed on the need to postpone a decision, a handful of people on both sides still took the opportunity to air their opinions. Mary Ann Hammett said the Bywater Neighborhood Association supports the project already, and Bob Freilich praised the building as an innovative architectural solution to an underused section of the neighborhood.
"It has to be a building like this. It's the only logical thing to put there, and I'm fascinated by it," Freilich said. "If it needs a little tweaking for how much commercial space it is, then OK. But it's the most brilliant proposition."
Opponents argued that the impact of the project has yet to be properly studied, especially as it pertains to traffic near train tracks that already cause bottlenecks.
"In Bywater, we do need residential development. We need something to counter the Airbnbs [short-term rentals] rising around our ears, so responsible development is highly desired," said resident John Bellinger. "But a building being beautiful in itself is not the only compelling argument that fits in the space."
Ray Kern, owner of the Den of Muses a block away on Royal Street, said he expects the development to hamper the krewe members who gather at his establishment.
"It's going to create problems for my business," Kern said. "I hope to remain there, but if I can't, I may have to look elsewhere. Please don't make me go to Arabi."
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