Developers plan to turn five properties along St. Claude Avenue in Bywater - including several houses and the former art space The Truck Farm - into a block-sized hotel development called the Sun Yard, with plans pending the approval of several city commissions.
The plans call for linking the properties together with fencing between them, with the inside area housing a pool and the hotel's interior space. The plans also call for the construction of another unit as well as the removal of steps on the street-facing side of the houses, which would be accessed internally. A restaurant also is planned on one side of the hotel, and a parking lot is planned on the other side of St. Claude.
The development includes addresses at 3000, 3014, 3020-3022, 3024-3026, and 3030-3032 St. Claude Ave.
On Dec. 19, architects with the firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple presented initial plans to the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission's (HDLC) Architectural Review Committee, among the first stops at City Hall where developers seek approval for building projects. But committee members voted to defer action on approving the plans, and residents expressed concerns about the scope of the project and potential impact to the neighborhood and New Orleans, from rising property taxes and housing affordability to noise.
Musicians and artists Quintron and Miss Pussycat, who share that strip of St. Claude with the proposed project, warned that the hotel's approval would transform the lot into a permanently commercial space in the neighborhood at the expense of its arts community. Neighboring residents said they fear the project sets a precedent for turning the neighborhood into a non-residential area against the interests of the people living there.
"The bigger picture is this will make New Orleans and this neighborhood less inhabitable for the people who make it interesting," Quintron said.
Michael Esealuka, whose lease at one of the houses was not renewed to make way for the development, said the project is removing affordable housing units from the market and "changing the community to Disneyland for tourists."
"It will accelerate the displacement of working people ... and fundamentally change the culture of the city," Esealuka said.
Eve Abrams, who used to live in one on one of the properties, said she is "horrified you're going to gut my former home." Abrams said the city should work to dispel "this notion that New Orleans culture is elastic, that we can take these kinds of hits ...
but eliminate people who perpetuate that culture."
Musician Ted Joyner, who recently moved into the neighborhood, asked the commission not to turn its "back to what's good" and "try to be a part of a positive future."
Developers faced a similar round of criticism at a neighborhood meeting earlier this month, where 3000-3032 St. Claude Ave. LLC director Liz Solms fielded complaints about the project's size and impact, among other issues raised by meeting attendees. (In a Dec. 11 email sent to residents who attended the meeting, Solms said, "We heard what all of you had to say at the meeting loud and clear.")
With St. Claude zoned as a commercial corridor, Solms believes the hotel “added to the development of the corridor in a positive, balanced way,” she later told Gambit. Solms said the hotel would serve as an alternative to the profusion of short-term rentals and the myriad issues they’ve stirred in the neighborhood.
“As far as hearing what the community members have to say, we hear everyone loud and clear,” she said. “I can understand where people are coming from, where it looks like idealistic out of towners are starting some kind of summer camp, but that’s definitely not the case.
“I really understand where neighbors are coming from, but I also want to start an open dialogue with folks,” she added. “I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to people to find out what they want. We’re not condo developers. If we had been a condo, we wouldn’t have to get a zoning change. … That’s not the type of developers we are … We think this is a positive addition to the neighborhood, only really amplifying it and not stamping it out.”
Solms and her husband Giuliano Pignataro run Spruce Street Commons, a Philadelphia-based real estate development company "based on historic preservation and sustainability," Solms said in the email. Solms said the group is working with an acoustician on its noise abatement plan and clarified her background in sustainable agriculture, a focus of the Sun Yard's restaurant. Solms said she hopes to work with Liberty's Kitchen and similar programs for its staff. "Hiring local, especially returning citizens, is important to me," she said.
Solms said the developers plan for the project to be a family-friendly space that hosts gallery shows, performances and other community events.
The design planned to remove existing stairs facing St. Claude, resulting in a facade made up of the current buildings' exteriors and fencing between them. Committee members recommended they be kept in place. (The committee handles architectural plans, not zoning issues.)
Pending the approval of its plans before the HDLC, developers will likely seek zoning change approvals in January and February.
The story was updated to include comment from Liz Solms and to clarify design plans for the street-facing side of the buildings.