Kenner Planning Commission recommends approval of plan for apartment complex at old movie theater site _lowres


After months of negotiations among city officials, developers and neighbors, a split Kenner City Council on Thursday approved a controversial plan to build a large, upscale apartment complex on the site of a former movie theater near the Esplanade Mall.

The Kenner Planning Commission had recommended in August that the council allow construction to move forward.

The project will include 265 units in three buildings on the nine-acre site, which is occupied now by the defunct Hollywood Theater.

Before the vote Thursday, the City Council had twice deferred action on the plan in the face of objections from residents of the adjacent Cannes Brulee subdivision. Neighbors said they feared the apartments would create noise, drainage and privacy issues.

Councilman Leonard Cline — whose district includes Cannes Brulee — as well as at-large representatives Maria DeFrancesch and Keith Conley met with the neighborhood’s civic association on five occasions and devised a list of various regulations residents wanted to see enforced at the apartment complex once it’s built.

The developers, New York-based Giraffe Real Estate Corp. and Lacy Howe of Baton Rouge, agreed to the various conditions.

Among them: The pool will be open only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No parties will be allowed in the parking lot. A brick wall will separate the complex from the Cannes Brulee, with no path connecting the two. And the landscaping around the complex will have to be kept “in a clean and workmanlike manner at all times.”

With those terms attached, the council approved the complex by a vote of 5-2.

Cline and DeFrancesch, who met with Cannes Brulee residents as recently as Wednesday evening, dissented, and many neighbors remained skeptical about the project.

Residents circulated a flier over the summer that said nothing would prevent the apartments from eventually becoming publicly subsidized and available to low-income residents. They also said some of their homes would be plainly visible to tenants of units on the upper floors of the apartment complex’s buildings, which will rise to three and four stories.

The plans call for reducing visibility with a tree buffer in the back of the property, but subdivision residents remained worried about whether it would be effective, said Edward Nestor, the president of the Cannes Brulee civic association.

Nonetheless, “we accept the reality that we are better with the (added regulations) than we are without them,” Nestor said.

Construction should begin early next year and last between 14 and 18 months, Cline said.

The Gateway’s apartments are projected to rent for between $1,100 and $2,000 a month. The developers have said the units will offer amenities similar to luxury units in New Orleans’ Central Business District but for a cheaper price. They will be accessible by the ring road around the Esplanade Mall.

City officials who have supported the complex from the outset said its construction would be preferable to letting the Hollywood Theater property remain unused.

Several residents who addressed the City Council asked the panel to consider other projects for the site.