by Stacy Coco
Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and the Holy Cross Neighborhood are seeking alternatives to a high rise apartment complex in the historic area. The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, as well as the Lower 9th Ward Vision Coalition met yesterday to discuss solutions.
Sarah DeBacher, President of the HCNA and co-organizer of the Lower 9th Ward Vision Coalition (L9VC), held a press conference at All Souls Episcopal Church to discuss developers’ plans to seek zoning variances, as well as the community’s opposition to the process.
In June 2013, developer Perez, APC proposed high-rise, high-density plans for the former school site. The 85 ft. development was approved by the Historic District Landmarks Commission in April, 2013. The high rise requires a zoning variance, as buildings 40 ft. and under are currently approved for the area.
The Tulane City Center awarded pro bono design services to the HCNA to develop better workable plans for the site to present to Perez. The HCNA eventually led to the formation of the L9VC, that has helped organize public meetings.
The plans were developed as an alternative to those presented by Perez which were rejected at community meetings earlier this year. Perez’s plans involved excessive height, density and development that is out of character for the existing community, according to DeBacher.
Councilman James Gray, the City Planning Commission and other council members gave the community time to propose new plans. The community's new proposed uses of the site, which do not require zoning variances, were previewed with Councilman Gray in late December.
DeBacher stated the five main priorities of the community when developing the site: appropriately scaled development, publicly accessible open space, connectivity, community use of the historic building and community engagement in all future endeavors.
“There is no need to change the zoning in order to have a wonderful development there that will attract future development to the community and serve the residents who live here,” said DeBacher, also adding that green space shouldn’t be ignored for the sake of the developer’s profit.
“Uptown has Audubon, Mid-City has City Park. We feel we are a community that deserves that. Very rarely are you presented with the opportunity of nearly 14 acres of pristine land waiting to be developed,” declared DeBacher.
Helping to bind the community together through connectivity between all of the Lower 9th Ward is the presence of Tennessee St., which DeBacher said an extension of the street can provide additional street parking and the continuation of Live Oaks.
The historic building, which was once an orphanage, is being proposed for community use by the HCNA. Perez offered the idea that it becomes private office space, but DeBacher stated it does not require private use to offset the costs of renovations.
“We want the building to continue to serve the community whether through school use, art programs or vocational training,” among other ideas, she said. “It should benefit the community.”
Throughout all the planning, meetings and discussion, one message is reiterated: the community is not opposed to development, but they expect to be a part of the process.
In a recent turn of events, the community has learned that Perez, APC is again pursuing zoning variances for their development plans.
Ward “Mack” McClendon, Executive Director of the Lower 9th Ward Village Community Center, said, “A community should dictate what happens in the community, and in most cases it doesn’t because of politicians.” He noted they aren’t against development, but reminded the community not all development is good.
He speculates taxes will double or triple if high-rise apartments are built by the river. “I’m willing to bet that 40 percent of the people that have made it back to the Lower Ninth Ward will not be able to stay. They wont be able to afford it,” referring to residents who relocated after Hurricane Katrina.
Vice President of the HCNA, Kim Ford, said, ”We have a developer in Perez who’s one of the top contributors to our council member’s campaign. It sets us off at a disadvantage. How do we stand a chance to compete with that?”
With zoning variances undecided and protests still continuing, the L9VC hopes to use their plans to attract other developers. Ford added, “We have to be the change first that we want to see outside.”