When plans for Port Marigny were unveiled in 2015, the owners of the large tract of land on Mandeville's prized lakefront proposed more than 400 residences plus 60,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space, a 120-room hotel, parks and a marina with 150 boat slips.

Based on principles of "new urbanism," which calls for walkable neighborhoods, narrower streets and a mix of commercial and residential property, Port Marigny was touted as a high-end development on the 76.6 acres near Sunset Point.

But opponents feared something else would emerge on the abandoned industrial site: a development out of sync with the rest of the city in terms of density and scale that would create traffic and possible drainage woes. They packed public hearings to decry the project, and the City Council voted two years ago to kill it.

Now, Port Marigny is back. Its future will be guided by a consent judgment that lawyers for Mandeville and property owners Michael and Marcus Pittman agreed to in federal court last week — the resolution of a lawsuit the brothers filed two years ago.

Port Marigny legal dispute ends with city off the hook for damages, owners agreeing to limits on size

While the Pittmans have five years to obtain a building permit, a spokesman said they hope to see construction begin in a couple of years.

Exactly what Port Marigny will look like remains a question mark. The owners will have to redraw their plans to mesh with the consent judgment, which is shaped largely by the terms of a rezoning ordinance that the City Council adopted for the land late last year.

But a few points are clear: The development will have fewer homes and commercial establishments than originally planned. The 120-room hotel that was a feature of the initial proposal is gone, and the marina has been downsized from 150 boat slips to 117.

The developers won't have to pay for any road improvements, including adding lanes to Monroe Street, although they will have to provide a right of way for a turning lane off Monroe and a right of way for improvements to that street and Messena Street.

The Pittmans initially sought 416 housing units, but the ordinance sets an upper limit of 350 units: 207 detached single-family homes, 102 attached residential units that include apartments and mixed-use buildings, and 41 townhomes.

That's not a guaranteed number, according to city officials. The developers will have to meet all the requirements set out in Mandeville's land use law, and Councilman Mike Pulaski, whose district includes the site, said he thinks they will have "a hard time getting the 350. I don't think they can do it."

Commercial space was originally proposed at 60,000 square feet, but it has been cut nearly in half, with a maximum of 25,000 square feet of retail and office space and 11,000 square feet of restaurant space, consisting of a 4,000-square-foot high-turnover restaurant and a 7,000-square-foot "quality restaurant."

Port Marigny will also have 15.32 acres of open space, no more than half of which can be water or wetlands or areas that can't be developed because of their elevation. The agreement says 11.49 acres must be common open space, open to the general public.

The developers won't be allowed to include in their open space calculations a 1.4-acre portion of land that belongs to the state and is currently leased to the city.

When the City Council voted in 2017 to reject the Pittmans' proposal, members said it was because the land included areas below 5 feet in elevation that can't be developed under city regulations.

Mandeville City Council votes to kill Port Marigny project; action was a surprise

A land use expert hired by opponents of the project estimated that a third of the land at the site couldn't be developed. Brett Perry, a nearby resident who has opposed the plan, said that as much as 35% to 40% is below 5 feet.

But Perry said that obstacle was removed by the City Council when it adopted the rezoning ordinance in December. "They muddied up the language intentionally," he said. 

The ordinance describes the site as having "holes, depressions, undulations and other uneven surfaces present because of the prior use of the property as an industrial site."

Because of what it calls "practical difficulties" in developing the property, the ordinance allows the developers to restore the site to elevations above mean sea level through a fill and grading plan that will have to get approval by the city's engineering staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

"They want you to believe the reason it's below 5 feet is because of the prior development," Perry said.

The ordinance also gives the Planning and Zoning Commission — not the City Council — final say over what will be built on the land. That point has been a source of consternation for opponents who blame the commission for not being sufficiently rigorous in vetting the original proposal.

"If the P&Z are the guards of compliance, we need someone to guard the guards," resident Charles Goodwin said. "That someone is the council."

The ordinance is also being assailed on the legal front by a group of 24 residents led by Jules and Deborah Sachs, who filed a suit Tuesday in 22nd Judicial District Court alleging that the City Council didn't follow Mandeville's land use regulations in adopting the December ordinance without its first going to the Planning and Zoning Commission. 

"There are always going to be people who think it's not good," Pulaski said, adding that both foes of the project and the Pittmans had objected to the ordinance when the council adopted it.

"Everybody on the council thinks we've done the best we can," he said.

Some opponents are reluctant to say whether they believe that Port Marigny will be more acceptable in its proposed new incarnation.

The hotel and amount of commercial space were never the issue, Perry said, but rather the total number of permanent residents.

"It's a great area for a housing development, maybe even a shop or two, but closer to what the surrounding area is developed like, within the capacity of the road system and the school system," he said.

But Pulaski said he is going to wait to see if development actually happens.

"Is there someone willing to come in and build it according to the consent agreement?" he said. "The developers will have to follow (the ordinance). I don't know if there's one in the wings waiting to do that."


Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.