On the eve of the City Council’s third attempt at voting on a proposal to build a mid-rise development in the Lower 9th Ward, the odds appeared to be stacked against neighbors who oppose the project on the grounds that it would overwhelm their community of mostly one-story houses.
With James Gray, the councilman whose district includes the site, repeatedly declaring his support of the plan, and with Mayor Mitch Landrieu saying this week that he, too, favors the proposal, Perez Architects appears likely to leave City Hall on Thursday with permission to construct two 60-foot-high riverfront residential buildings and to redevelop an existing building into commercial and office space on the former site of Holy Cross School.
Even so, opponents said they still intend to fight.
“If Katrina couldn’t drown us, surely we’re not going to let some chicken**** councilman and some fly-by-night developer run us out,” said Bill Waiters, who lives in the Holy Cross neighborhood.
Perez Architects will ask the council to change the former school site’s zoning from two-family residential to commercial so as to accommodate the mixed-use development. Most of the school buildings were torn down after Hurricane Katrina, and the school moved to Paris Avenue in Gentilly.
The plan, modified from an earlier proposal, calls for the construction of two 60-foot-tall buildings, containing 123 residential units, and redevelopment of the school’s old administration building.
The original plan called for two 75-foot-tall buildings, redevelopment of the administration building and construction of eight smaller structures. That plan had a total of 284 residential units.
The proposal has been the subject of great debate in the Lower 9th Ward, where some residents say it would be out of scale with the surrounding area and others say it would spur further needed development.
At Gray’s request, the council has twice deferred a vote on the matter. It will now be taken up by a body that includes three new members who were sworn in Monday.
Landrieu said this week that he supports the development in its revised form.
“The original plan has been significantly scaled down and now comports with the (city’s) current master plan and the draft comprehensive zoning ordinance,” Landrieu said in a statement. “Through this development, we have an opportunity to restore an historic site and realize significant, new private investment in the Lower 9th Ward.”
But opponents, including Waiters and the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, said they will urge the council to deny the request and require that any new structures follow the neighborhood’s current zoning, which restricts building heights to 40 feet. The proposed new citywide zoning ordinance would increase that limit to 60 feet.