The three new members of the New Orleans City Council said Monday that they will be prepared to vote Thursday on a controversial proposed development in the Lower 9th Ward that has been before the council for several weeks but has twice been deferred.
Jason Williams, Nadine Ramsey and Jared Brossett, all of whom were sworn into office Monday, said they have spent the past few days briefing themselves on a plan to erect a mid-rise, mixed-use development on the former site of Holy Cross School.
Williams and Ramsey said they have toured the site and met with both supporters and opponents of the plan. Brossett said he intends to visit the area Tuesday and to sit down with representatives from both sides before Thursday’s council meeting.
All three said they have not decided which way they will vote.
“I absolutely have not made a decision yet,” Williams said. “We need progress. We definitely want development at that site. We want to make sure that it’s a development that’s going to enhance the community and not detract from it. So I’m still trying to make up my mind there.”
That is the crux of the controversy over the proposal from Perez Architects.
The plan, as originally presented by the firm, called for structures of varying scales, including two seven-story, 75-foot-tall buildings, at the former site of the school, which relocated to Gentilly after Hurricane Katrina. The project was to include 284 residential units as well as retail space and the Perez firm’s offices.
The plan called for redeveloping the former school’s entire site — stretching between Deslonde and Reynes streets and from the levee to Burgundy Street — with the exception of the former baseball field.
The proposal has generated considerable controversy in the neighborhood. Some residents say it would be out of scale with the surrounding area of mostly low-rise homes. Other residents have said it would spur further development in an area that needs a spark.
Councilman James Gray, whose district includes the site, has said he supports the project, but he has twice asked the council to defer a decision.
If the new council follows the pattern of its predecessors, the other members will support Gray’s recommendation.
Last month, the architectural firm revised its plan to lower the height of the two proposed 75-foot buildings to 60 feet. The revised plan also includes 161 fewer residential units and eliminates proposed development north of Royal Street, the firm said. Perez characterized the change as a compromise with neighborhood opponents.
However, the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, which has led the opposition to the measure, said it is not satisfied with the changes and doesn’t consider them a compromise because they would still permit structures larger than allowed by the neighborhood’s current zoning.
“The 40-foot height limit for our current zoning is adequate for new construction, and we oppose the Perez request for a zoning change that would allow anything higher,” the association said in a statement released Sunday night.
The measure will be before the council on Thursday without recommendations from the City Planning Commission or the Historic District Landmarks Commission. Members of both groups were divided on whether to endorse the project at the time it still called for the two 75-foot-high buildings.
“I’m prepared to vote on it,” Ramsey said. “It’s about development of opportunities in the community and also being considerate and mindful of what the residents want.”