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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

City Planning Commission holds off on Bywater hotel plans

Posted By on Wed, Feb 7, 2018 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge Opponents of a proposed hotel in Bywater at the City Planning Commission's Feb. 6 meeting.
  • Opponents of a proposed hotel in Bywater at the City Planning Commission's Feb. 6 meeting.

The New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) is holding off on approving plans for a proposed hotel on St. Claude Avenue in Bywater, buying more time for developers to amend their plans or work with the CPC on a compromise. The CPC deferred action on the plans to its March 13 meeting.

As the CPC heard from the developers’ attorney Justin Schmidt Feb. 6, more than two dozen opponents in the crowd held signs that read “NO” or depicted a hand blocking a sun, an image that followed a campaign among residents and advocates to “Block out the Sun Yard.”

An online petition opposing the hotel has collected more than 3,000 signatures, while residents have challenged the developers plans to turn the former Truck Farm venue and neighboring properties along the 3000 block of St. Claude into a 37-room hotel with a bar, restaurant and pool with a parking lot across the street.

Developers Liz Solms and Giuliano Pignataro are requesting a zoning change that places the properties into one commercial zoning designation, rather than a “split-zoned” mix of residential and commercial zones. They also are requesting a conditional use to allow the hotel, a requirement for developments larger than 10,000 square feet within that corridor.

Opponents fear the development will disproportionately impact property taxes and housing affordability in the area while creating a permanently commercially zoned designation that lives with the property in perpetuity, opening it up to other larger commercial use even if the hotel closes.

More than 30 letters opposing the project were attached to a recent CPC staff report, which outlined several provisos in order to meet conditions for approval: move the bar from the back of the property to an enclosed space in the front; place limits on amplified sound and hours of operation during special events; and reorient a loading and unloading area to be entered via St. Claude, away from residential sides of the street. CPC staff also wants developers to scrap the parking lot on the other side of St. Claude. Schmidt said the developers object to several of the provisos and “errors” in the report.

“There’s a lot of questions that remain open that were raised in the staff report,” said Schmidt, asking for deferral to have an “opportunity over the next few weeks before the next meeting to clarify those.”

Michael Esealuka, a former resident on the proposed site whose lease was not renewed by the property’s owners, said the development will have a “ripple effect” with raised rents and property taxes throughout the area and “continue the process of gentrification pushing New Orleanians out of neighborhoods.”

“We are proud residents who want the city to grow and thrive but we want developments that put community first,” Esealuka said.

Opponents criticized developers' lack of experience running a restaurant and bar, which they warned could fail in the footsteps of similar businesses in an area that has seen rapid upscaling that residents say is only in the interest of higher-income earning visitors. Residents also suggested the developers use the property for an ancillary use within St. Claude’s commercial zoning — from a bed and breakfast to a cultural center, a farm, and housing.

“It’s not the right thing for this neighborhood,” said artist and musician Miss Pussycat, who suggested the CPC consider the success or failures or similar commercial developments in progress before committing to another one. “This could be a big failure,” she said. “Why don’t we wait and see how those do and then decide on this? … We waited 12 years for a grocery store in this neighborhood. We can wait longer.”

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