Just as it did six years ago, the City Planning Commission on Tuesday rejected the recommendation of its staff and denied a Faubourg Marigny grocery store’s request for permission to sell packaged liquor.
After listening to testimony from fans and critics of the Mardi Gras Zone at 2706 Royal St., the commission voted not to approve a zoning change that would allow the store to sell alcohol, partly because such a change would apply to any future business that were to open on the site.
But members encouraged owner Benny Naghi to return to the commission after the city’s new comprehensive zoning ordinance is implemented next year with a request for a conditional-use permit that would authorize the sale of alcohol but with restrictions to address some of the concerns of neighbors.
The vote to deny the request was 5-0, with four commissioners absent.
The final decision will be up to the City Council. The site is in Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s district.
Naghi wants to change the zoning of his building from residential to commercial.
Mardi Gras Zone began as a purveyor of beads, boas and other Mardi Gras trinkets. But after Hurricane Katrina, with grocery stores scarce, it began selling food and other goods. The store has morphed even further to include sales of hot food, sandwiches and pizza. It is open 24 hours a day and employs 24 people.
The ban on the sale of packaged alcohol puts his business at a competitive disadvantage, Naghi said.
“The problem is that we’re not in a fair level with the other supermarkets because we don’t have packaged liquor,” he said. “One could not come to our store on Thanksgiving and buy everything that they need. They have to make two trips, and we lose a lot of business because of it.”
The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association urged the commission to deny the request but said it would support Naghi’s bid if it were for a conditional-use permit. That option would give the commission the ability, through various provisos, to restrict certain aspects of Naghi’s operation. The association, for instance, wants the sale of pizza and hot food prohibited.
Fans of Naghi and the supermarket touted it as a community asset — a store that is easy for Marigny residents to walk to, with a wide assortment of goods and a late-night schedule that accommodates service industry workers. Many thanked him for filling a void in the neighborhood after Katrina.
“We were so happy to have Benny open up that store after Katrina because there was no place to get food,” said Cliff Panter, who lives across the street from the store. “He’s been a wonderful neighbor for all of us. I think … we should support him as he supported us.”
But detractors said Mardi Gras Zone has brought unwanted noise, trash and traffic to a once-quiet neighborhood. They warned that the sale of alcohol would only worsen those issues.
Maggie Marks said she surveyed the neighborhood to make sure it was quiet before buying her Royal Street home.
“Nothing was going on, and that’s why I bought the house,” she said. Now, she said, she’s faced with a “constant auditory deluge.”
The same arguments were made in 2008, when Naghi made the same request to the City Planning Commission. Just like this year, the planning staff voted to approve the zoning change, but the commission overruled them after hearing from neighbors. The City Council upheld the commission’s decision.