Overturning a recommendation by the City Planning Commission, the New Orleans City Council voted 5-1 Thursday to approve a plan to convert a Central Business District parking lot into a hotel.
The hotel developers were seeking waivers to allow a building both taller and with more floors than the zoning law allows.
The developers want to build a 148-foot, 14-story Virgin Hotel at Baronne and Lafayette streets. A hotel is a permitted use for the site, but buildings there are limited to 125 feet and 10 stories under an interim zoning district that governs the neighborhood.
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose district includes the site, said she decided to overrule the Planning Commission, in part, because bringing the Virgin brand into the New Orleans market would spur economic development.
“It really sets the tone that we are moving in the right direction,” Cantrell said. “We are attracting flags that had not existed in the city of New Orleans in our hospitality landscape.”
The 183-room hotel would join the family of Virgin Hotels, a brand launched in 2010 by the British company Virgin Group Ltd.
Texas-based Gatehouse Capital and the local firm DAG Development are the project developers. The same team was chosen by the city in 2013 to redevelop the vacant World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street, but it was unable to agree with the city on the terms of a lease.
Cantrell said the residents of two nearby condominium buildings who had criticized the hotel project at a Planning Commission meeting were close to completing a “good neighbor agreement” with the developers.
Both groups said there still are issues to work out before the agreement is signed. Cantrell said those issues, which deal mostly with property rights issues, must be settled by Tuesday.
The Lafayette Square Association is no longer opposed to the project, the developers said.
The council’s decision allows the project to receive waivers to an interim zoning district that was created in 2012 and expanded in 2015. The rules were crafted after more than a year of discussions by a committee including both developers and residents and were adopted by the council after a public hearing.
The IZD put a 125-foot cap on developments in that area of the CBD, where previously there had been no height restriction.
Although she called the hotel a great development that would help make New Orleans “cool” and be good for the city’s brand, Councilwoman Stacy Head said she could not vote for the waivers because they would violate the zoning rules.
She said she would welcome a discussion about changing the height restrictions but was uncomfortable with bending the rules for one developer.