Called to order at 7:17PM by President Julie Jones.
Note: This meeting was planned as a “year in review” and discussion of what the future holds for our organization.
Carolyn Leftwich and Michael Bolan were introduced to the group and gave an update on the “Arrive” hotel (formerly Stateside, The Rusty Pelican, among other names), which is proposed at 4019 Chartres St. The near neighbors, with some assistance from NFB, have been working since February 2015 to have their concerns addressed about the development, which we agree is not appropriate for the neighborhood. It would back up to and tower over several historic homes on Bartholomew and Royal Streets. The hotel could hold up to 500 guests. Aside from scale, noise and parking have been major concerns. The building is effectively a sheer wall that would deflect all noise from the parking lot into neighbors’ bedrooms. These issues are being discussed with HDLC and there is currently a 30 day reprieve for neighbors to collaborate with the developers. The developers failed to show up for one meeting and then didn’t return calls for a proposed conference call. Neighbors are asking for another 45 days. The HDLC meeting that was supposed to happen earlier this same day was cancelled for lack of a quorum. It’s important to get as many people as possible to the meeting when it is held. Speaking isn’t required, but filling out the card that shows you were present and against the development is very effective. Andrew Sullivan, Councilmember Palmer’s Chief of Staff, clarified some confusion regarding the expiration of the conditional use extension, which has been a controversy for many reasons. He explained that it may not expire when it is expected to because the city may not have “started the clock” until the lawsuit was settled last March. Carolyn had a letter written by Lane LaCoy, one of the near neighbors, that she was asking members to co-sign like a petition [click here to see the letter]. She also handed out an informative document detailing the noise concerns near neighbors are trying to get addressed. [click here to see the document]
Julie then brought up Brian Luckett, who mentioned the “Red House” – a formerly proposed entertainment complex at Press and St Claude on the Marigny side. Both an event space and wine garden were proposed, but neither came to fruition, and the property is now for sale. NFB partnered with Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA) to express concerns about the effect of noise on the quality of life for near neighbors. HMC-2 zoning (which is what much of St. Claude Ave is) does not require any kind of buffer for neighbors that may be backed up to businesses that have outdoor seating, etc… though many other commercial zoning types in the city do include it – a problematic oversight. This was also a concern with the proposed “Sun Yard” hotel zoning change as well (which was ultimately denied). There has been some discussion with Councilmember Palmer to address this issue.
Brian then gave us an recap and update regarding the former Naval Support Activity property (aka the NSA or “point of embarkation”), which he referred to as “an unmitigated disaster”. The Navy transferred ownership to the City in 2013 after the property sat unused for a number of years. A plan to redevelop some of the buildings was abandoned when the city diverted $40 million in federal grants away from the project. The buildings have deteriorated since, and become a den for criminals and drug addicts. EMDRC Partners, a development group headed by Joe Jaeger, got a 99 year lease for the property. The city later wanted to renegotiate the lease to give the port access to the wharf, which they own, presumably for a cruise ship terminal. The proposal is problematic to the developers, who would like to make the property into mixed use / affordable housing, which NFB supports. The developers are applying for some financial assistance from HUD, which has been a painfully slow process. In the meantime there are a number of security issues that still need to be dealt with. A movie crew has been working there recently, which has helped, but it’s not known how long they will stay or how much security they are providing. Andrew Sullivan told the group that an “occupant” of the NSA actually called the city to complain about the film crew disturbing them. The long term solution is for the property to be developed. NFB has always supported affordable housing and understands sometimes there can be a tradeoff, such as green space or storm water absorption. If HANO could work with EMDRC to develop affordable housing at the NSA, everyone would win. They would have much more space for housing and the lot at Royal and Mazant, which is currently slated for an out of scale HANO complex, could be more thoughtfully developed and/or remain green space for the neighborhood. Intelligent development at the NSA would also stimulate economic growth in the area.
Brian then gave an update on the wharf and possible cruise ship terminal. NFB takes the position that a cruise ship terminal would overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic. It would also result in commercial activity better suited to tourist heavy areas downtown. The reason that this wharf is being considered for cruise ships is that it can handle extremely large ships. Some of these big cruise ships can hold 4500 passengers and 1500 crew members, so with supply delivery trucks and other support staff that could mean around 10000 people coming and going in a day! A couple of years ago the Port of New Orleans demolished the historic Poland Street wharf and shed. They did not have approval from the neighborhood conservation district or a permit. They did get a permit from the levee district to build a road, and approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, even though they violated a code that would have been enforced for Crescent City Park. Now they are trying to get permitted by the Corps to do “bank stabilization and wharf structure repairs”. They are saying it’s not safe, but that hasn’t been stopping them from temporarily parking cruise ships there anyway. The permit process requires them to go through a federally mandated process called the “Section 106 Process”, which requires an environmental review, and in our case requires a review of the impact on an adjacent historic district. They haven’t done it and seem to be avoiding it. We are pushing for it to be done now, and not letting them wait until after they are done with the work. We know they are simply trying to push through to accommodate a cruise ship terminal. There has been a steady increase in the amount of cruise ship traffic to New Orleans. An attendee suggested we communicate directly with some of the cruise ship companies to tell them building a terminal in our neighborhood is a bad idea because it would be a traffic problem for them as well as us. They would not be able to turn ships around as quickly as they would like. If they realize it is not a great idea for them logistically then it isn’t as economically appealing either. Brian has been working with BNA and FMIA to try and raise public awareness of the project and its implications.
Joe Brown was then introduced, and he discussed the large HANO development that has been proposed for the lot on Royal between Mazant and France Streets. The ARC and HDLC suggested significant changes to the plan. The architect — who is working for ITEX, the developer — has been amenable and cooperative, but it’s still 143 apartments. HANO seems to be forcing the developers to put in as many apartments as possible. Much of the building is 55 feet high, with a shorter section at 28 feet along Royal St. and part of France St. Near neighbors have asked Councilmember Palmer to communicate to HANO that the project is too big. Other neighbors have been suggesting the project be moved to the NSA, where there is more than enough room and it would actually be an asset to the neighborhood.
Brian returned and explained that NFB supports Jane Place’s REST ordinance for Short Term Rentals. The suggested ordinance would require a homestead exemption to get an STR permit in a residential area, and the city council has voted in favor of requiring a Homestead Exemption for STRs in residential areas. Now we are carefully watching how permits in commercially zoned areas are handled. We would like to see limits on commercial STRs. City Council is currently waiting for a CPC report. Andrew Sullivan clarified that a permit for a property with a homestead exemption could still cover multiple units on the same parcel. They are trying to be strategic in how they approach the new regulations, making compromises to be sure the new rules are effective and less likely to be challenged. He stressed that the platforms have to participate and be held accountable when laws are broken. San Francisco went from about 15,000 listings to 3000 overnight when they implemented new rules that fined platforms for hosting illegal listings. A member told the group about a tenant that was illegally listing her property on AirBnB. She contacted them to have the listing taken down and they were uncooperative. She also mentioned hearing the tax assessor say he was going to raise the property taxes for Marigny and Bywater (again) as a direct result of STRs and gentrification. Mark Gonzales then recommended everyone read the report recently released by the Economic Policy Institute regarding the pros and cons of STRs. [read it here]
Mark then gave us a recap of our “Bywater Goes Bananas” event. He had posters from the event, and they were free to members or $5 for non-members (same cost to become a member!). The idea was to host an event that would be an opportunity to talk about what we love about Bywater. A forum of “long term residents” was assembled, and was a great success. We hope to do it again, as there are other neighbors with stories to share. We sold a lot of banana daiquiris and Roy Markey made a generous donation of $250 to NFB as a result of the event.
Julie showed everyone posters made by NFB board member Tyler that reflect NFB’s position on STRs, and encouraged them to take one.
John Andrews told us about a meeting several board members, along with near neighbors of the HANO property and the hotel/hostel property had with Councilmember Palmer on Monday, February 4. They discussed all the same issues we had been covering at this NFB meeting, and it was a positive and pleasant experience.
Julie spoke briefly about the great work the near neighbors opposed to the “Sun Yard” hotel project did last year. They were successful in stalling the project, but the developers can try for the zoning change again in two years, so there may be more work ahead. NFB supported their efforts, as it is part of our mission to help near neighbors with quality of life issues.
Julie then invited attendees to make suggestions for any issues we may not have covered yet that they would like to see us pay attention to in the coming year. One person mentioned concerns about the impact of road work planned on St. Claude. There is a plan to repave some areas starting at the Poland end and working toward downtown. Another member spoke to a worker and got the impression work wouldn’t be starting for a while. Suggestions can also be mailed to Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the contact form on nfbywater.org.
Our next meeting is on Ash Wednesday – March 6th, and WE’RE DOING IT! We are hopeful someone from NOPD can attend since they were unable to come this time due to staffing changes. Nominations for the NFB can be submitted at this meeting, and voting would be in April. Nominees must be NFB members for at least three months to qualify. Maximum board size is 12, which is what we currently have.
Meeting adjourned at 8:22PM.