In a win — at least in the short term — for Holy Cross residents hoping to stave off construction of two mid-rise buildings in their neighborhood, a Civil District Court judge ruled Wednesday that the ordinance allowing the development is invalid.
A spokesman for the court said Judge Piper Griffin found that the ordinance doesn’t “have everything it needs as required by law.”
Griffin stopped short of issuing an injunction prohibiting the controversial Holy Cross development project from moving forward, and it is not clear whether her ruling will require the developer, Perez Architects, to start the permitting process all over again.
A lawsuit filed by the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and three residents — Sarah DeBacher, William Waiters and Rodney Dejoie — named Perez, the city, the City Council and Holy Cross Inc. as defendants.
The residents argued that the ordinance granting Perez permission to construct two 60-foot-tall riverfront residential buildings on the former site of Holy Cross School should be tossed out largely because the documents supporting the ordinance did not contain a “concept plan” for the project. Such a plan, spelling out in detail the location, dimensions and design of new construction, is required under the comprehensive zoning ordinance.
The ordinance at issue gave approval to changing the former school site’s zoning from two-family residential to commercial and to including the site in a “mixed-use planned development zoning district” to accommodate the development. The application for the zoning change was requested by Holy Cross Inc., which owned the site until it was sold to Perez in July.
“It appears that what the city did was to consider all the various sketches, drawings, narratives and ‘ideas’ to support (the City Planning Commission) staff’s interjection and
recommendation of approval of a MUPD,” Edward Washington, an attorney for the neighbors, wrote in a memo to the court. “But this falls woefully short of what is required by law.”
The absence of such a plan prevented residents, as well as the City Planning Commission and City Council, from fully considering what would be developed at the site, the neighbors’ suit says.
“The City Council did not have before it the necessary information to make (an) informed and valid decision. Unbeknownst to the City Council, it passed a deficient, incomplete and therefore illegal ordinance,” the opponents’ filing says.
Councilman James Gray, whose district includes the site and who has championed the project, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu declined to comment.
Telephone calls to Perez seeking comment were not returned.
According to court documents, the defendants argued that the information that would have appeared in a concept plan was included in exhibits attached to the ordinance, though they were not labeled as such. The City Planning Commission staff report and other supporting documents served the same purpose as such a plan, the defense said. The staff report, for instance, called for 17 provisos — all adopted by the council — that, among other things, require that final development plans must be approved by the commission and that sustainable land-use practices must be used.
But Washington said many of the provisos are requests for more information and don’t provide specific information about how the project will proceed, such as would be included in a concept plan. One proviso, included before plans for the site were later modified to include fewer units, urged that the number of residential units be reduced to a number “closer to the density of the adjacent neighborhood,” but it did not recommend a specific number.
The City Council approved the proposal to construct the 123-unit residential buildings and to redevelop an existing building into commercial and office space in May after a year of deferrals, negotiations and attempts to win over angry neighbors, who said the project would overwhelm their community of mostly modest, low-rise houses. Neighbors also complained they had been excluded from the planning process.