Despite requests from several neighborhoods for more time to become familiar with the Isidore Newman School’s proposed land-use changes, the City Planning Commission gave the school’s plans a favorable recommendation Tuesday to the City Council with very little discussion.
The school plans to build an early-childhood education center on Loyola Avenue by combining two houses on the street with a third home to be moved from elsewhere on campus, officials have said. Newman is also seeking official “school use” designation for several other buildings it owns, including the old Autopaint building on Danneel Street currently used for storage and the proposed headmaster’s house at 1803 Jefferson.
While the pre-school project generally wins neighbors’ praise, a perception that “school use” is an overly vague land-use designation troubles some neighbors. Several wrote letters to the planning commission asking for a 30-day deferral on the vote, and nearby Baronne Street Neighborhood Assocation president Lynn Alline was among those who appeared Tuesday to make that request in person.
The planning commission report on the project is 93 pages long, she said, and she just wants more time to study it and discuss it with the neighborhood association.
“Our neighborhood has a pretty good track record of working with neighborhood schools and coming up with a cooperative agreement,” Alline says. “From what I’ve heard, it doesn’t sound like anyone is absolutely opposed to what Newman wants to do.”
One planning commissioner, Lynes Schloss, echoed those concerns by asking why the house at 1803 Jefferson even requires a “school use” designation, when its intended use as the headmaster’s home fits within its current residential zoning.
Newman attorney Justin Schmidt replied that the early-childhood center is on an “extremely tight construction schedule” to be ready for classes in fall of next year, an opening that could be jeopardized by further delay. On the headmaster’s house, he described the possibility for future use as an alumni center with offices and a conference room inside, if a future headmaster decides not to live there.
“In the event that something changes in two years, this is a fairly lengthy process and a fairly expensive process, and under those circumstances we’d like to go ahead and leave it in at the time,” Schmidt says.
The city made an extensive list of conditions that Newman should follow if granted its requests, and Commissioner Louis Volz said they should be sufficient to address the neighbors concerns. With that, the commission voted 6-2 to approve the request — without any comments offered by the two dissenting commissioners, George Amedee and Pamela Bryan.
To read our live coverage of Tuesday’s meeting, click “Replay” in the box below.