City planners are recommending approval for a mixed-use development proposed by businessman Sidney Torres IV for a nine-acre swath of land along the Lafitte Greenway. The project will go before the New Orleans City Planning Commission this week.
The development would “provide a missing residential element” in a largely commercial and industrial area, the planning staff wrote in a report to the commission, adding that it would also “invigorate the newly constructed public amenity” of the Greenway “and encourage more economic development along the corridor.”
The project was first announced last year by Torres, the New Orleans entrepreneur known for his trash pickup services in the French Quarter and later his creation of an app designed to improve police response times in the Quarter.
Detailed plans for the development, made public last month, call for 382 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, ranging from 750 square feet to nearly 1,200 square feet.
Pictures of the design show buildings reminiscent of Spanish architecture in the French Quarter, with private and shared balconies and doors with large, arched windows. A landscaping plan lays out large and small interior courtyards with shrubs and trees.
Altogether, two four-story residential structures would total 460,000 square feet, with two ground-floor restaurants totaling 2,300 square feet.
The proposed project is bounded by North Scott Street, the Lafitte Greenway, North Jefferson Davis Parkway and Conti Street.
The city planners said the proposal is in line with the city’s master plan and zoning ordinance, which call for the kind of mixed-use development with businesses, storefronts and apartments that Torres wants to build.
The planners revealed that Torres plans to take advantage of “development bonuses” that are offered for planned developments in this particular area. The city will allow a 29 percent increase in density in exchange for the provision of affordable housing units and the incorporation of green building techniques that meet Energy Star standards.
“The development of affordable housing units certainly promotes a variety of residential types and ensures that more residents can benefit from the accessibility of the Lafitte Greenway,” the staff said, adding that “further development of affordable housing” in Mid-City is especially important given that property values “have increased dramatically in the last couple of years, driving up rents and housing costs.”
The staff did bring up the issues of density and increased traffic but said the development’s proximity to the Lafitte Greenway justifies the number of apartments proposed. The fact that a bike and walking path is so close “should spur active transportation modes,” the planners said, reducing residents’ dependency on automobiles.
The 3.1-mile shared bicycle and pedestrian path, which reaches from the edge of the French Quarter to Mid-City and Lakeview, was finished in 2015. Before that, the site was a shipping canal-turned-railway corridor.
That, planners said, is how the area got its overall industrial character, particularly between Jefferson Davis Parkway and Alexander Street. Freight rail allowed industrial companies to flourish, including the American Can Co., New Orleans Roofing and Metal Works Co. and Southern Sheet Metal Works.
In the 1950s, however, the railway was decommissioned, leading to a decline in commercial and industrial activity along what is now the Greenway. According to the staff, that decline is now turning around, spurred largely by the Greenway’s transformation into a park.
Ultimately, the staff recommended approval of the application, submitted by the newly formed Bayou JTK LLC, with 19 provisos. They include a suggestion that the applicant revise building setbacks to create a more compact streetscape along Conti Street, which would allow for more activity along the Greenway.
The staff also wants the building designs to reflect “a more contemporary and utilitarian style” that fits in better with the park, and for the applicant to submit a “traffic circulation plan” covering pedestrians, bicycles and cars operated by residents and visitors.
The staff also wants bicycle storage areas and the provision of more than 60 long-term bicycle parking spaces.
“The staff believes the proposed development will benefit adjacent properties and surrounding neighborhoods, and potentially encourage or catalyze further economic development along the Lafitte Greenway,” the planners concluded.