Three new mixed-use residential complexes — one in the Marigny, one in Broadmoor and one in the Irish Channel — received initial approval from the City Planning Commission (CPC) last week, potentially clearing the way for as many as 700 new housing units around the city in the foreseeable future.
Developer Sean Cummings' Via Latrobe project at Press and Royal streets would create 260 residential units and 23,000 square feet of commercial space — a smaller plan since Cummings eliminated a proposed brewery. The intent of the project, Cummings said, is to help Bywater restore some of the population it has lost over the past decades and alleviate rising home prices by increasing housing density.
The debate over Via Latrobe drew an extended back-and-forth between Cummings, his supporters, their opponents and city planners, mostly around the topics of parking and other pressures the project will place on the neighborhood. Opponents said Via Latrobe would bring hundreds or thousands of new people into the area regularly and only increase housing prices for everyone as the area becomes more desirable. "Don't let this dog of a development take a dump on our front yard and say that it's doing us a favor by fertilizing our lawn," said Ray Kern, owner of the Den of Muses on Royal Street.
The commission passed the proposal by a vote of 6-1. Commissioner Kyle Wedberg, the lone "nay" vote, said he actually supported the project as well, and was only voting against a parking requirement. "The neighborhood is shifting. Whether I like that or not, whether you like that or not, it is what is happening around us," Wedberg said. "I am a little chagrined that it is not accommodating more in the way of affordable housing and in the way of sustaining the neighborhood in terms of who has lived there in the past. That said, it's not inherently the responsibility of any single sale or any single developer to do that."
Parkway Apartments is a planned five-story residential development with 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and a rooftop courtyard and pool, located at the edge of Broadmoor (where Washington Avenue meets South Jefferson Davis Parkway). Architect Hank Smith presented the plan to the CPC last month, but a decision on it was deferred so he could meet with city officials to review the number of residential units in the project.
The original site plan had proposed 228 one- and two-bedroom residential units, but city planners had urged that number be reduced to 207. Smith said the developers had agreed to the revision, and the planning staff was recommending approval of the project, which will have 312 off-street parking spaces in a covered garage as well. The commissioners' only question was about the green space on the site, and Smith replied that the Clark Street side of the project will be landscaped with gardens and other greenery as a buffer to the homes there. With that, the measure passed unanimously.
The proposed Jackson Oaks redevelopment of the former Sara Mayo Hospital on Jackson Avenue between the Irish Channel and Lower Garden District likewise was approved by the commission, though density remained a point of disagreement between the city and the developer. The developer plans to renovate the main five-story hospital building on Jackson Avenue and add a penthouse on top, then build a new eight-story apartment building and a four-level parking garage on the site as well, according to plans submitted to the city.
Attorney Ed Suffern, representing Jackson Oaks before the planning commission, presented a concept plan for 211 residential units (111 in the former hospital building and 100 in the new structure) and 17,500 square feet of ground-floor retail. Development regulations at that location, however, call for a maximum density of 1,000 square feet per residential unit, and the Jackson Oaks proposal is nearly twice that, city planners said, so they recommended the total number of units be reduced to 111.
Suffern argued that higher density is beneficial. "It was a hospital. That was an intensive use of the property," he said. "This is an area of high ground. We should concentrate populations and people in this area."
James Jones, a Josephine Street resident, said he looks forward to the building's redevelopment, because it currently attracts squatters. But Bill Sawicki, who complimented the developers' decision to renovate the "hideous eyesore," said the Irish Channel is already suffering from development pressure and the increased density of the Jackson Oaks project will only make the problem worse. "Simply being better than what's there now is not a sufficient reason to grant approval," Sawicki said. "... While it may be an appropriate development for the CBD or Warehouse District, it is simply out of place in this location." The CPC sided with their staff planners, however, and voted to recommend approval of the project with 111 total residential units.
All three votes remain subject to final approval by the full City Council.