Long-vacant Audubon Hotel on St. Charles Avenue plans one-story addition, new facade _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- A renovation of the vacant, former Audubon Hotel in the 1200 block of St. Charles Avenue has been recommended by the City Planning Commission

The long-vacant Audubon Hotel in the 1200 block of St. Charles Avenue could be headed for a renovation. The City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend that the New Orleans City Council grant the historic hotel a conditional-use permit for the work.

That vote was in line with a recommendation by the commission’s staff.

In a separate case, the commission went against its staff and recommended allowing a zoning change so a St. Claude resident can operate a wig business and use an adjacent lot for parking in the 1500 block of Desire Street.

Brittany Penn, who said she was born and raised in the block, wants to expand her home-based business of selling high-end hair extensions and lace wigs, which she began in 2010 at another location. Since then, business has been brisk through online sales, making the expansion possible.

In going against the staff’s recommendation, some commission members expressed a desire for reviving neighborhood corner stores, once mainstays of the city that have gradually fallen off.

“The structure that was there before … was a detriment to the neighborhood, a neighborhood that I live in, a corner that I pass at least once a day,” Chairman Kyle Wedberg said. “The neighborhood is improving, and the neighborhood is changing.”

Wedberg said the project’s backers, who included a handful of Penn’s family members who attended the meeting, are “exactly the kind of people that will work to stabilize a neighborhood and make sure that it remains and does not turn and change too quickly.”

The commission voted to recommend the Desire Street site’s rezoning. The issue largely stemmed from the lots having been zoned differently in the past. One lot has a history of being used as a single- or two-family residence, while the adjacent corner lot formerly was a store but is now vacant, according to the commission’s staff.

The staff recommended rejecting the rezoning request because it would treat the vacant lot differently from neighboring parcels and because it did not meet the criteria for a historic non-conforming use. They contended that because the vacant lot has gone unused for at least five years, it lost any legal nonconforming status.

The commission voted 6-0 to go against the staff’s recommendation. The site is in Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s district.

As for the St. Charles Avenue hotel, plans call for the renovated Audubon to have 30 rooms on three floors as well as an office and a bar and lounge area on 11,700 square feet, according to the staff’s report.

The renovation would include a small one-story addition, as well as installing a new façade, a new canopy and signage.

No one spoke in opposition to the project Tuesday.

The staff recommended approving the project with 10 stipulations. The Planning Commission agreed, voting 5-0 to recommend the renovation.

The hotel has been vacant since before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The site is in Councilman LaToya Cantrell’s district.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.