Few things stir the residents of Old Mandeville more than developments along the city’s picturesque lakefront. Whether it’s bathrooms at a park, a “poetry box” near a stand of oak trees or a developer’s plan for a new restaurant, proposed changes to the city’s shore often draw crowds and emotional feedback.
It was the last of those that drew a standing-room-only crowd to Monday night’s special meeting of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. There was only one issue on the agenda: Barrett McGuire’s plan to transform the city’s historic Rest A While property on Lakeshore Drive between Lafitte and Carroll streets into a restaurant and two bars, with seating for 68 people and standing room for many more across several thousand square feet of deck space.
After nearly two hours of debate, the commission approved the proposal 4-3.
No one denied that the Rest A While property needs improvement. It fell into disrepair after a century of ownership by the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, an interdenominational Christian service organization that began trying to sell the property after Hurricane Katrina.
That finally happened a little over a year ago, when McGuire bought it for $750,000. He planned to convert the dilapidated hotel and two cottages, which date from the 1850s, into a restaurant and wine bar connected by decks with some outdoor seating.
The plans met fierce resistance from many residents of Old Mandeville, who said adding a commercial kitchen to the site and serving customers late into the night would disturb nearby residents and lower property values.
The most vociferous opposition has come from Mark and Adele Foster. Their house is just 11 feet from the largest of the Rest A While buildings, the old Frapart Hotel.
The Fosters and other critics have packed a series of Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, during which McGuire has made a series of concessions, including moving several air conditioning units and shifting the commercial kitchen farther from the Fosters’ property.
Monday night, McGuire’s architect, Michael Piazza, presented the most recent adjustments, including moving planned bathrooms.
The changes didn’t mollify the steady procession of residents who pleaded with the commission to reject the plan, saying the size and intensity would be out of step with the surrounding area.
Louisette Kidd, the city’s planning director, said the zoning allows for a mixture of residential and “small-scale” commercial uses.
Not all the speakers opposed the plan. A handful said McGuire should be applauded for trying to turn a rundown property into a profitable business.
The commission’s 4-3 approval came with two extra conditions: no outside activity on the site after 10 p.m. on any night and no amplified music or speakers outside.
A tearful Adele Foster said she wouldn’t appeal the decision to the courts.
“We are extremely disappointed,” she said between hugs from sympathizers. “We will try and live with it and see in one year if we want to make this our home.”
The support from her neighbors has been incredible, she said.
“This,” she said gesturing to the people around her, “is why we won’t leave Old Mandeville.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.