New Orleans panel rejects proposal to update vacant Frenchmen Street building _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The City Planning Commission is considering a proposal to turn a former home for children on Frenchmen street into a hotel.

The City Planning Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal to turn an unoccupied Frenchmen Street building into a boutique hotel.

Even though the proposal had the support of the neighborhood association, a 5-3 majority of the commission said it does not fit with the city’s master plan.

The final decision is up to the City Council. The site is in the district of Nadine Ramsey, who has been friendly to development projects since joining the council last summer.

The master plan designates the proposed site, at 700 Frenchmen St., for small residences and businesses that cater to them. A hotel, by definition, is not primarily for residents, the commission said.

“It’s unfortunate because it seems like a good operation and (one that is) sensitive to the neighborhood,” Commissioner Robert Steeg said before offering a motion in support of the planning staff’s recommendation of denial of the requested zoning change.

Steeg said that if the issue with the project had been traffic, for instance, he would have moved to approve it with a proviso addressing that concern. But he said he could not accept a project that contradicted the master plan.

The City Charter prohibits the city from approving projects that violate the master plan.

The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association had asked the City Planning Commission for an exception in this case because the project would return a vacant property to commerce. FMIA President Lisa Suarez said a boutique hotel could also help to curb the growth of short-term vacation rentals, which she said “continue to decimate” the Marigny neighborhood.

Property owner Hugh Stiel has proposed converting the site, made up of adjoining 2 1/2-story townhouses and a three-story rear service building at Frenchmen and Royal streets, into a 19-room hotel.

The Greek Revival-style buildings, built between 1833 and 1836, were last used as a home for children by the nonprofit Girls and Boys Town of Louisiana. They are now unoccupied.

Stiel was seeking a conditional-use permit that would allow a hotel greater than 10,000 square feet at the site. The proposed hotel would total 12,588 square feet.

But the planning staff recommended denial of the project because it was not in keeping with the master plan’s “future land use map.” The staff said allowing the conditional use would amount to spot zoning.

Joining Steeg in voting to reject the project were Commissioners Kelly Brown, Pamela Bryan, Nolan Marshall and Kyle Wedberg. Commissioners Royce Duplessis, Jason Hughes and Alexandra Mora voted to allow the zoning change. Commissioner Craig Mitchell was absent.