Plans for two new apartment buildings with ground-floor restaurants along a five-acre stretch of the Lafitte Greenway in Mid-City won approval Tuesday from the New Orleans City Planning Commission.
The project is the first major development proposed along the nearly 3-mile bike path and pedestrian park, which opened last year. It’s the initial phase of a broader plan envisioned by businessman Sidney Torres IV, who owns the site and an adjacent 10 acres fronting Bayou St. John.
The commission voted 5-0 in favor of the project, which would be situated in City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s district. The final decision rests with the council.
The project’s developer, Ohio-based Edwards Communities, is proposing to demolish an existing building on the site — formerly an office appliances and electric supplies warehouse — and replace it with two four-story buildings housing a total of 382 apartments, ranging from studios to two-bedroom units. Both buildings will have parking garages with space for 573 cars, as well as two ground-floor restaurants.
Taken together, the complex will “provide a missing residential element to a largely commercial and industrial span of the greenway,” the planning staff wrote in a report to the commission, recommending approval.
The application for the project was submitted by Bayou JTK LLC, a limited-liability corporation owned by Torres. The site is bounded by North Scott and Conti streets, North Jefferson Davis Parkway and the greenway.
A few neighbors expressed concern Tuesday about the project’s density, arguing it will add to an already-congested area.
“The neighborhood is already becoming overused and overwhelmed by all the events,” said Toni McCormick, who lives nearby on Taft Place.
In their report, planning staff acknowledged that the project “would likely generate an increase in traffic,” but decided nearby streets should be able to handle it, and that the proposed parking facilities would be enough to accommodate the extra vehicles.
The proposal relies on so-called density bonuses, which allow developers to pack more apartments into a given space than would typically be allowed, as long as they agree to set aside some affordable units.
In this case, the proposal calls for units to average about 570-square-feet, where 800 would usually be the minimum. In exchange, the developer has agreed to set aside 5 percent of the units at reduced rents and to build according to Energy Star certification standards.
Commissioner Nolan Marshall III, who also lives in the neighborhood, conceded that, aesthetically, the project appears more in line with the French Quarter’s Spanish-inspired architecture, rather than the nearby former American Can Factory.
“I wish it fit in more with Mid-City,” he said.
But Marshall praised the project’s developers for including affordable units. “I know what it was, I know what it is, and I’m optimistic about what it could be,” he said.
In coming months, Torres plans to meet with neighbors to discuss developing condos, additional retail and a small, neighborhood movie theater. He declined to disclose his business arrangement with Edwards Communities, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.