After more than an hour of debate about potential parking problems, a city panel on Tuesday backed developer Sean Cummings’ plan to redevelop two blocks of abandoned industrial buildings along the Bywater riverfront into hundreds of apartments and retail space.
The City Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend Cummings’ proposal to build a 260-unit development with six buildings ranging in height from 25 feet to 75 feet. Most of the 260 apartments would have two bedrooms, and nearly all would be rented at market rates. There would be 23,169 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 271 covered parking spaces.
The final decision is up to the City Council. The site is in Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s district.
The Bywater proposal was one of three major apartment developments that were steered through the Planning Commission on Tuesday.
The commission’s vote followed a lengthy discussion that focused on whether Cummings should be required to bundle a parking spot with the sale or lease of each residential unit to dissuade tenants from parking on the street. That condition was among more than a dozen stipulations that the commission’s staff recommended tacking onto the proposal as a condition for its approval.
Cummings asked the commission to delete the proviso, saying it would hamper his efforts to market the units because he would have to raise monthly rents to factor in the parking spaces. He said he is considering renting the spaces individually.
Some neighbors, particularly on nearby Montegut Street, endorsed the bundling plan. Several expressed concern that the project would add too many units in a small area. Some tenants may try parking on the street to avoid paying for a spot if it is not required, they warned.
Rather than requiring tenants to pay for a spot, Commissioner Robert Steeg proposed requiring that the available parking spaces be reserved exclusively for tenants.
Those spaces are going to be used, Steeg said.
“If everybody’s parking on the street, the market is going to take care of things. If everybody is parking on the street, then the price of the spaces is going to be reduced,” he said.
His amendment was approved.
Chairman Kyle Wedberg, a Bywater resident who heads the nearby New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, praised Cummings for resolving many issues raised by neighbors and noted that the project is in scale with the neighborhood, even though anticipated rental rates would likely be higher than many residents would prefer.
“The neighborhood is shifting,” he said, “and whether I like it or not, whether you like that or not, it is what is happening around us.”
But Wedberg ultimately cast the lone vote against the project because of his concerns about parking. He said that linking the spots with the units, as proposed by the commission’s staff, presented a rare chance to get ahead of a potential problem.
“In this situation, we have an opportunity to solve parking on site, and we should take that,” he said.
“I do not believe that the economic impact will be so adverse that an entrepreneurial person living next to someone who wants two spots will not figure out a way to rent their spot to them,” he said.
Commission members on Tuesday also recommended two other large-scale apartment developments.
In Gert Town, plans were approved for a 207-unit residential and commercial development called Parkway Apartments, near the Blue Plate Artist Lofts building. The project comprises five new buildings with 15,434 square feet of ground-floor retail space as well as 312 covered parking spots.
The project, which is bounded by Washington Avenue, South Jefferson Davis Parkway and Erato, South Clark and Clio streets, is in Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s district. It was approved 6-0.
The commission also endorsed plans for redeveloping the former Sara Mayo Hospital in the 600 block of Jackson Avenue. The project will involve renovating the existing structures except for a two-story portion along Josephine Street, which will be demolished. It will include 111 residential units and 17,500 square feet of commercial space.
That project passed 7-0, despite opposition from the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, which urged the commission to reject it as too dense and out of scale with the neighborhood. The site is also in Cantrell’s district.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.