Developers’ plans to set aside 11 units for affordable housing and to bring a long-blighted property back into use were enough to persuade the New Orleans City Council to override the City Planning Commission and approve an extra 100 apartments at a complex proposed for the former Sara Mayo Hospital site on Jackson Avenue.
The council’s approval on Thursday came over the objections of members of the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, who argued that adding fewer than a dozen small apartments for low-income residents didn’t justify more than doubling the number of units that city planners said are allowed by the city’s zoning ordinance.
But Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose district includes the site, said the project would be a step in the right direction for affordable housing.
“Something is better than nothing,” she said.
The former hospital complex in the 600 block of Jackson Avenue will be redeveloped by the Kailas Companies to include 211 apartments, 17,500 square feet of commercial space and 375 parking spots.
Most of the existing buildings on the site, including the T-shaped hospital, will be renovated.
Two new buildings will be constructed: a four-story garage and an eight-story building facing Josephine Street, where a two-story building will be demolished.
The council approved the project 6-0, with Councilwoman Stacy Head absent.
The City Planning Commission said the project was too dense and, by a 7-0 vote in October, called for it to be scaled back to 111 units.
Cantrell argued that the 11 affordable housing units — which will be set aside for residents making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median income — and the need to redevelop a site that has been vacant for decades were more compelling than the density issue.
She said the project represented a rare opportunity to put affordable units in an area where prices are rapidly increasing and that did not flood during Hurricane Katrina.
“This is a perfect opportunity to ensure affordability in an area where opportunities (for such units) are slim to none,” Cantrell said.
But Howard Nobles, with the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association, said the developer would reap profits out of proportion to the benefits provided by the affordable units. The association has been opposed to the project because of its scale.
“We are not against affordable housing, but we think 11 units added to this so they can go 100 units above what they’ve already been approved for is ridiculous,” Nobles said.
Cantrell fired back, saying the neighborhood association lacks the racial and economic diversity to truly reflect the needs of the area.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.