Aug 232011
 

Whole Foods, the Monkey Hill property and the Poydras Home addition.

After hearing from a procession of worried neighbors, the City Planning Commission voted to reject all but the least controversial of Whole Foods’ requested operational changes, possibly reducing months of efforts by the Magazine Street grocery into an extra hour of business on Sunday and the ability to put plants in front of the store.

A major addition to the nearby Poydras Home retirement community was approved in accordance with the architects’ and neighbors wishes, but a decision was deferred on the expansion of the Monkey Hill bar into Johnny V’s restaurant amid concerns about parking and the nature of the expansion itself.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods Arabella Station spent months negotiating with the surrounding Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association in hopes of support for five requested changes to its operating agreement with the city: the ability to stay open until 9 p.m. on Sundays (as on the other six nights), more than one 18-wheeler per day, expanded hours in which deliveries are allowed, permission to display plants for sale on the front patio, and permission to host live music once or twice a month.

On the deliveries, the most controversial issue, the store has argued that more 18-wheelers would mean fewer smaller trucks in total, and less impact on the neighborhood. Neighbors have accused the store of violating its existing operating rules, and said the store is already a shopping destination far too large for the small surrounding neighborhood and streets that should not be given additional concessions.

Ultimately, the neighborhood association gave cautious approval to the extended hour of operation, the plants and the live music, but balked at changes to the deliveries that neighbors already complain does extensive damage to their homes and their streets. The association’s decisions did not figure prominently into Tuesday’s discussion before the City Planning Commission, but after about 90 minutes of discussion that included opposition from a dozen speakers, the commissioners dispatched both the deliveries and the live music after just a minute or two of discussion, with Commissioner Lou Volz proposing the commission recommend only the outdoor plants and extended hour on Sunday.

“Based on what we heard today, I don’t see any change in the circumstances vis a vis what happened 10 years ago when all this started,” Commissioner Craig Mitchell said, agreeing with Volz.

Commissioner Lynes Sloss wanted to deny even the additional hour, citing his sympathy for the residents who have to listen to the store’s cleanup for hours after closing time, but his idea was not picked up by the commission. Commissioner Kelly Brown said she supported the live music inside the store.

The vote was 5-2 in favor of Volz’s suggestions, with opposition from Sloss and Brown and Commissioner Joseph Williams abstaining without explanation.

Poydras Home

The proposed addition of a three-story building on the Poydras Home campus has been generally supported by neighbors and found a friendly audience on the planning commission Tuesday, winning unanimous approval for all its requests.

The planning staff had recommended against the creation of 10 parking spaces along a new driveway to the building in an effort to preserve more of the building’s front lawn, and had also recommended design changes to the entrance of the new building for aesthetic reasons as well. Architects from Mathes Brierre, however, argued that the parking was a necessity both to serve Poydras Home’s elderly residents and to minimize the impact on the neighborhood, and that the door in question was designed with the specific needs of Alzheimer’s patients in mind.

“It is crucial for this project that we have adequate parking,” said Poydras Home executive director Jay Rive.

The commissioners agreed, restoring the architects’ plans for both the parking and the door, and voting 7-0 (with Brown absent) in the project’s favor. Mitchell noted that he originally favored the preservation of the green space, but had been swayed by the architects’ presentation.

“When you get people in and out with a wheelchair, it’s important to have people close to the door,” Sloss agreed.

Johnny V’s

A restaurant proposed next to Monkey Hill averted outright rejection so that commissioners could see the outcome over negotiations for more parking in the area.

The city has granted permission for the construction of Johnny V’s twice before, in 2005 and 2009, noted attorney Justin Schmidt. The actual construction on the restaurant, however, turned out to be more than the city agreed to two years ago, halting the project yet again.

Specifically, Schmidt said, the contractor “overbuilt” a walk-in cooler that used up a parking space outside, and added too much space upstairs. Schmidt submitted two lawsuits filed by Johnny V’s owners, alleging that the contractor forced the changes upon them in an effort to “undermine the solvency” of the restaurant before it opened and take over the lease themselves.

“The contractor just went haywire,” Schmidt said. “The more that got built, the more he got paid.”

The contractor, Francioni Builders, also submitted a letter to the commission, stating that all the work it peformed was based on the owners’ orders, and that it stopped work due to non-payment. No representative from the company spoke at the meeting.

About 10 neighbors, however, did speak on the restaurant. Three offered their support, saying the renovations will result in a nicer building than has ever stood there before. The parking will be ameliorated by agreements to use the lot at the Shell station and a lot behind a doctor’s office next to the Circle K, and any additional parking burden is the price to pay for living on stretch of Magazine with so many fine restaurants, they said.

Five others, however, opposed the project vigorously. Monkey Hill has been a poor neighbor, they said, allowing bad behavior by its patrons through the residential streets where they park. The new restaurant, they said, is too large and out of scale for a neighborhood already bearing the traffic from many restaurants.

“I think the only reason why we’re here today is because the developer got caught building more than he had permission to build,” said nearby resident Loretta Hoskins, noting a recent magazine article claiming the restaurant would have seating on two floors. “It sends a message to the business owners of this neighborhood that it’s OK to build first without getting permission, and we don’t want to send that message. …. You can’t use your contractor as a scapegoat.”

Karen Duncan of the Upper Hurstville Neighborhood Association was the first on Tuesday to ask the commission to defer its decision. The developers only recently contacted her about the project, so her association has been unable to meet and take a position, she said — echoing concerns expressed by the Audubon-Riverside Neighborhood Association last month.

The parking issue was also raised by Sharon Perlis, who said that her family’s clothing store has never prevented Monkey Hill customers from parking in their lot before, but “it’s been abused to the point that we’re tempted … to close off our lot.” Based on a conversation earlier in the day, Perlis told the commission she was willing to try to negotiate a formal lease with the Monkey Hill and Johnny V’s owners for use of the 16 spaces at Perlis.

“If it is not mutually satisfactory, the likelihood is that we would close off our parking,” Perlis said, suggesting a deferral.

After those comments, Sloss said he would prefer to wait until the Perlis issue was resolved before voting, and the commission agreed to put off a decision in a 6-2 vote. Volz and Mitchell opposed the deferral, however, saying they had heard enough to reject the project altogether.

“When you don’t follow the prior provisos and then you want to seek ratification after the fact, I always find that troublesome,” Volz said.

To read our live coverage of Tuesday’s City Planning Commission meeting, click “Replay” in the box below.

Contact Robert Morris at rmorris@NolaMessenger.com, or post your comment below.

  • Eric

    “She says that Whole Foods hours should be more like Langenstein’s, closing at 7 p.m. during the summer and 6 p.m. in winter.”

    Wow, I was inclined to be sympathetic to the neighbors until I read that. What is this, Amish country? How ridiculous. I don’t even leave my office until 6 p.m. I guess if she had it her way, I’d never go to the grocery during the week. Must be nice to be an old woman who doesn’t have to work.

    • Boo Jones

      How rude!

    • Dogmom13

      Sounds like the sort of person whose “help” does the grocery shopping.

  • alpelican

    Whole Foods really should open another location in New Orleans.

  • Justin

    @ Eric – I think that woman was probably just trying to make the point that Whole Foods is supposed to be a neighborhood store like Langenstein’s is and the comparison was being made to other grocery stores not located in a residential area. (I read the PSR.)

    How do you know she is “an old woman who doesn’t have to work”? How do you know her? How do you know she “doesn’t have to work”? Is she independently wealthy? Or did she just plan well? You sound pretty judgemental.

    I do know there is an extremely short amount of time allowed to speak at those public hearing meetings and not all information can be given in that abbreviated time frame. Why don’t we all just ask for more information and put ourselves in the neighbors’ shoes before making decisions and statements like you just made. You sound more than a little short-sighted.

    Let me just say that I really do like the Whole Foods’ concept and I shop at Whole Foods, but if they are not honoring their responsibilites to the rules that put them there, then they should be held accountable and pulled in check. Follow the rules. Until then I say we hear the Whole Story before anyone makes any decisions that affect so many people.

    • Eric

      Anyone who would prefer a grocery store to close at 6 p.m. obviously has some means to shop there before then — which means either they keep odd hours or they don’t work. I and many others who *do* work during the day would regard this sort of wish as selfish and absurd. It’s this sort of extreme request that undermines the more legitimate objections neighbors have against Whole Foods.

      I believe Whole Foods has been a major boon to that area of Magazine Street, and while I think they should work to minimize disruptions to the neighborhood, the neighbors have to meet them halfway.

      And you’re right, it may not be an old woman. I was confusing her with the woman mentioned later in the transcript. Though I don’t know what young person would be advocating for a grocery store to close at 6 p.m.

  • Jean-Paul

    Amendments happen. What a wonderful problem to have! Why New Orleanians complain that a business is too successful is WAY beyond me. And WF has another metro location on Vets.

  • Lorin

    So, where’s the Burtheville Association of Neighbors (BAN) in all of this? You remember them, don’t you? The group that, with a vengeance, went after the Sonnier’s and The Uptowner? Yes, them. Were they a one shot organization formed to “ban” one certain neighbor, or are they a viable neighborhood group?

    Is it possible that “BAN,” a vitriolic and vocal group of “neighbors,” would not oppose the opening of a a 160-seat, with no parking? Doubtful. So, where are they in this important neighborhood-related question? *crickets* …just as I suspected.

    • Boo

      See 2:27 p.m. Of Uptown messenger transcript –Kent Blackwell of Burtheville neighborhood association spoke on behalf of the neighbors.

      • Lorin

        Thanks for the info…No mention of that organization in the above story…would be interested in Blackwell and BAN’s position…

      • Just to be absolutely clear here, Kent Blackwell of Burtheville spoke on the Whole Foods issue.

        I don’t recall him addressing the Monkey Hill/Johnny V’s expansion that Lorin is describing.

        • Lorin

          Thank you Robert. I learned the same thing this morning from a fellow journalist who reviewed the transcript…

          Therefore my question stands…Yo, Burtheville Association of Neighbors: Where are you, and what say you about Monkey Hill/Johnny V’s?

  • Laura

    I believe they had parking all settled until the morning of the meeting when Sharon Perlis deviously threw them all for a loop, knowing she could hold them by their wallets on the issue. There had been a gentleman’s agreement, and she claims this gentleman is no longer mentally capable of making decisions. It was expertly played, but it gains her no respect.

    There were probably thug-like motives involved with the opposition to the Uptowner. This business, too, is highly suspected of having its own set of scavengers (even prior to the parking issue) who have hoped to cash in on other people’s ambitions. The sad thing is in both cases, it isn’t some corporation with endless pockets; there are individuals involved whose lives have been on hold. People forget that it’s other neighbors just like themselves that are being denied a living – one they’d like to invest back into the community.

    At any rate, I thought the issue at hand was the approval after the plans didn’t match original ones. The overbuilding affected the number of people the restaurant can seat by very little; it was my understanding they had re-submitted the plans along with evidence of ample parking. The simple fact that it was coming to a vote brought out the by-the-book thumpers (with particular ire since the pilates fiasco) and the NIMBY’s… I just hope this can be settled soon so this beautiful spot can finally open and folks can get on with their lives.

  • Justin

    I say people need to really investigate the issues fully beofre posting their comments online. They may end up looking rather foolish once they have more facts and history about the various issues in the news.