“No quiero Taco Bell.”
That was the message from a group of Mid-City residents who turned out Tuesday for a New Orleans City Planning Commission meeting that featured an at-times contentious discussion about whether to allow a proposed Taco Bell restaurant with a drive-through window at 217 N. Broad St.
Plans call for a 2,000-square-foot restaurant and 19 off-street parking spaces. The site, which is vacant, consists of five lots that form a rectangular parcel on the lake side of North Broad at Bienville Avenue.
In a report, the commission’s staff recommended denying the request. The staff noted that while other fast-food restaurants are nearby, they predate new zoning laws and recent efforts to encourage pedestrian-friendly businesses in the area.
The staff said “there are issues with the application that go beyond the site design and that significant impacts resulting from the request cannot be sufficiently mitigated through the use of provisions.”
The request for a conditional-use permit to allow the Taco Bell was submitted by Cajun Broad LLC, which lists Rami Badr, of New Orleans, as manager.
A number of residents and representatives of community groups spoke against the proposal, mostly focusing on the prospect of another fast-food restaurant in the area rather than a healthier alternative.
“This project really undermines years of community-based revitalization efforts,” said Emily Mickley-Doyle, founding director of Sprout Nola, a community-garden organization.
Attorney Justin Schmidt, representing the applicant, said he sympathized with residents who sought healthier options, noting that he lost 70 pounds himself in the past year.
“I am not indifferent to the problems with fast food,” he said. “The problem, though, is it’s not a zoning issue. Those are life choices, and they’re things you have to address personally, not through a zoning application.”
Schmidt noted that a handful of items on Taco Bell’s menu have 350 calories or less. He also took a swipe at the nearby Whole Foods Market.
“Whole Foods is not the mecca for healthy foods that it holds itself out to be,” he said, recalling that on a recent trip to the store, he saw pizza being sold in the deli section and a bakery “filled with sugary delights and heavy cream.”
The owner of the Broad Street site has “no loyalty to Taco Bell,” Schmidt added. “He wanted to develop the site as best as he could.”
At the request of Schmidt, who noted that the project’s architect wasn’t present, commission members voted 5-2 to defer a decision on the project until its Feb. 23 meeting.
The site is in New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s district.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.