Bywater residents in City Hall breathed a muted sigh of relief March 13 after the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) denied a proposal for a hotel development in their neighborhood.
The CPC voted to deny approval for a zoning change and conditional use permit allowing construction of a hotel on a large lot on St. Claude Avenue in Bywater, a site that formerly housed the events space The Truck Farm and several residences. Developers also withdrew a plan to add a parking lot on the opposite side of St. Claude.
The CPC's recommendation for denial now heads to the New Orleans City Council which will determine whether the development gets the green light.
[jump] [content-3] Developers behind the Sun Yard plan a 37-room hotel along the 3000 block of St. Claude with a bar, restaurant and pool, which requires a zoning change that brings the lot into one commercial zoning destination, as well as a conditional use to allow a development larger than 10,000 square feet.
Residents - including dozens of people who live in properties abutting or close to the proposed hotel - have raised several concerns about the project, from noise, waste management and parking issues to its potential impact to quality of life, property values and taxes, and housing affordability. The lot's commercial designation would live with the parcel in perpetuity; residents fear the possible failure of one large-scale development would make it vulnerable to be used for other larger projects, leaving residents to combat a commercial creep into an evolving, attractive corridor.
In his motion to deny the changes, City Planning Commissioner Kyle Wedberg said there are properties in the neighborhood "where this would be an instant go."
"This is a neighborhood which cannot be dipped in amber," he admitted. "That said, this lot is problematic ... The attempt to put that into these lots is a moment where it feels like it crosses a line to me."
The City Planning Commission deferred action on the project at its Feb. 7 meeting to give developers time to work with CPC staff and residents on a list of provisos to bring the plans up to speed for the staff's approval. Over the last several weeks, developers Liz Solms and Giuliano Pignataro made several changes to the plans to address concerns raised by several residents and the CPC staff.
In the staff's latest report, it recommended moving an outdoor bar and lounge area in the back into an enclosed space closer to the front; restrict the amplification and hours of operation of events; move off-street parking to the site itself; and move a loading and unloading area to St. Claude away from nearby residences.
Mary Ann Hammett with the Bywater Neighborhood Association said the developers also agreed to a noise abatement plan and limits on pool hours. Architect Jason Richards with Eskew+Dumez+Ripple said developers also would consider adding a maximum capacity limit, which neighbors said they've requested several times. Richards said the hotel's outdoor space could potentially hold 200 people.
Developers Solms and Pignataro spent the last several years "looking not just for a place to make an investment but a place to make home," Pignataro told the CPC. He added that the project would add positive growth to the growing Bywater corridor and provide full-time jobs with benefits.
Pignataro said the developers have made efforts to compromise, but "people are concerned we’ll succeed, but people concerned we’ll fail." Ultimately, the CPC agreed with residents who argued the hotel is largely out of character with a neighborhood clinging to itself on the designated commercial corridor.
Over the last several months, that debate has generated heated discussions, petitions throughout the neighborhood, and, according to several residents, physical threats.
In a letter attached to the CPC staff's report, Nathan Hedberg said Pignataro threatened to “knock [him] the f- out” after Hedberg laughed about plans for the hotel's plans for a natural pool.
Several people who previously lived on the property have said their leases were not renewed by the developers once they purchased it. By removing more housing units from the neighborhood, the hotel "is not going to help the housing situation at all," said nearby resident Kimberly Herbert. "It will exacerbate it and make it far worse."
Amy Myers, whose rental property backs on to the development from Montegut Street, said developers approached the owner several times about buying the property. "It feels predatory," she said. "I am a transplant but I would never profess to love a place and try to change it like this."