The city is in the process of rezoning a strip of port-owned land along the Mississippi River in Algiers for maritime industrial use, correcting what the port says was an oversight in the process of creating the new comprehensive zoning ordinance adopted earlier this year.
The change, however, has drawn opposition from residents and neighborhood groups, who have grown accustomed to having the land — known as the batture — available for walking dogs, playing Frisbee and enjoying the river.
The Algiers Point Association is also leery of the heavy industrial uses and tall buildings that it says the proposed “maritime industrial” designation could bring.
Signs saying “Not for sale” dotted the auditorium at the Alice Harte Charter School in Algiers on Tuesday night for the second of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s five annual community meetings to discuss budget priorities and listen to residents’ concerns.
“It’s just outrageous,” Algiers Point Association President Rob Booms said of the proposed zoning change, noting that it could open the door for tall buildings that could block the view of the river and dwarf the existing residential scale of Algiers Point.
For city planners and the Port of New Orleans, however, it is simply a matter of giving the strip between Bermuda Street and Whitney Avenue the zoning designation it deserves.
Port spokesman Matt Gresham said planners didn’t notice the port-owned property was zoned for maritime use in the city’s master plan when they were creating the new zoning ordinance, which gives the plan the force of law.
He said port officials noticed the oversight and asked for the zoning to be changed.
“While the port does not foresee an industrial use in this area, port staff is interested in pursuing small-scale uses consistent with the maritime mixed-use zoning,” the port said in a written statement.
Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes Algiers, submitted the request to the City Planning Commission last month, and the commission agreed to go along with the master plan’s designation for the site by a 5-0 vote. The City Council could approve the change this month.
For Booms and other Algiers Point residents, however, it’s the master plan that is in error, and they oppose many of the kinds of uses that the zoning change could allow.
“We want to preserve that as green space, and this would be a major blow,” Booms said. “To have a whole rim of industrial or tall buildings on the waterfront is going to hem in that entire neighborhood and affect the quality of life.”
Algiers Point resident Amy Hubbell asked Ramsey at the meeting Tuesday evening to delay the council’s vote, saying she could not believe that the intent of the master plan was to have industrial uses alongside a historic neighborhood in which residents have invested their life savings and years of their lives.
Resident Kevin Herridge asked how the city could allow nine-story buildings to tower over a historic district where residents can’t even change the color of their front door without getting city approval.
Donna St. Louis said some homes have doubled in value over the past 20 years and that city officials need to remember the role that residents’ quality of life plays in creating that value.
“I’ve spent many days running on that levee, and I’d hate to see that view obscured,” she said.
Booms said the CZO already allows taller buildings than residents would like upriver, and the zoning change to the batture would be another blow. Explaining the “Not for sale” signs, he said residents fear the zoning change is simply preparing the way for selling the land to the highest bidder.
Gresham said the port has no plans to sell the property.
Booms said residents met last week with members of Ramsey’s staff but were not able to change anyone’s mind.
“We’re not a bunch of greenies who want no development at all, but we want something that’s in character with the neighborhood,” he said.
Ramsey said the industrial zoning for the batture in the master plan was put in place before she took office, and that she doesn’t think heavy industrial uses along the river are a good idea, either. But she said she considers aligning the CZO with the plan is the right thing to do for now, and that port officials are “sensible” people she thinks she can work with to prevent residents’ fears from coming true.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.