The Harahan City Council approved a zoning change Thursday that would allow a Creole restaurant to open in a former plantation home at Jefferson Highway and Carolyn Drive, though the fate of the roughly $1 million project rests in the hands of the mayor, who could veto the decision.
Kevin Marrone, who plans to buy the four-lot parcel on the north side of the highway from his uncle and develop it, said Soniat Plantation would have seating for about 50 patrons, with a bar, waiting area and parking for 28 vehicles.
Some Carolyn Drive residents, however, oppose the project because of concerns about traffic, parking and other issues, and two council members voted against the zoning change on their behalf.
Those who have backed the project urged Mayor Tina Miceli and the two dissenting council members — Sue Benton and Craig Johnston — to consider the restaurant as an asset to the neighborhood that would generate sorely needed tax revenue.
Marrone said the project has more than twice the number of parking spaces required, would use gravel fill instead of concrete and would not require the removal of any trees.
Councilman Tim Baudier, who voted for the project along with members Dana Huete and Carrie Wheeler, noted that Marrone had agreed to a covenant that would have the property's zoning revert back to residential if the business fails within five years.
The lot to the east on Jefferson Highway contains a gas station, coffee shop and the restaurant My Sister’s Table.
Marrone said he plans to buy the property behind the plantation home on Carolyn Drive as a buffer and that he has letters of support from the three residences across the street, on the west side of Carolyn.
“All my surrounding neighbors that abut me are fine with it,” he said in an interview Friday, adding that the only vehicular access to the site would be on Jefferson Highway.
Farther down Carolyn, however, is a different story, and Johnston, whose district includes the site, said he has heard too much opposition to the project from his constituents to support it.
Marrone said he thinks much of the opposition is based on information that predates changes to the plan that he has agreed to make — such as concerns about trees being removed — but Johnston said the folks he’s spoken with have been aware of the latest plans.
Johnston said that because Harahan has no city planner, he can’t be confident that such a zoning change makes for smart planning.
Huete, however, pointed to successful residential-to-commercial rezoning initiatives in the past. She noted Jefferson Highway is more than two-thirds commercial.
Baudier said the benefit to the entire city should be weighed along with the concerns of nearby residents.
“Do we stop progress because somebody is afraid someone is going to park in front of their house?” he asked.
The restaurant project previously had the involvement of chef Duke Locicero, who recently closed his longtime French Quarter restaurant Café Giovanni. Marrone said Locicero has had to move on as his bid to build the restaurant has played out, but he said Soniat Plantation would have a well-recognized chef.
Marrone plans to open Soniat Plantation on his own, but he also operates Bienvenue Bar & Grill at 312 St. Charles Ave. with two business partners, and the three will open a second location of that restaurant on Hickory Avenue in Harahan on Jan. 9.
Miceli said Friday that a veto of the zoning change is “possible.”