Apr 242012

The most recent revisions to the proposed LaSalle school redevelopment won over city planning commissioners Tuesday afternoon, but a sandwich shop proposed for Maple Street split the commission and a request for alcohol sales at a Jackson Avenue chicken-wings restaurant was deferred for two weeks.

Three other Uptown projects that have been less controversial — a residential redevelopment on Napoleon Avenue, a restaurant supply store on Carondelet and the sale of an unused portion of South Front Street to Uptown Carwash — all passed Tuesday’s meeting with ease.

LaSalle School | Planning Commissioner Lou Volz led the critical line of the questioning last month that ended with the LaSalle school redevelopment being ordered for review by the Historic District Landmarks Commission, but at Tuesday’s meeting (click for video), Volz took the lead in praising the changes made to the plan as a result of that meeting. The new balconies and dormers have been significantly reduced, and an addition to the building has been moved to an interior area.

“I’m quite pleased that the developer and all parties concerned paid heed to the issues that were addressed by the commission at the last meeting as well as by the public,” Volz said.

The only opposition on the commission came from Commissioner Kelly Brown, who noted ongoing controversy in the neighborhood and asked whether the balconies could be removed altogether. Project attorney Justin Schmidt replied that most neighbors of the project have balconies themselves, and the scaled-back balconies developed in cooperation with the HDLC should be acceptable.

At the previous meeting, Volz had also expressed concern about the rift in the neighborhood over the project. On Tuesday, he said he was aware that the neighborhood conflict had intensified, but felt that the changes to the project were satisfied all his concerns.

The commission’s vote was 6-1 in favor of the project, with Brown opposed and Lynes Sloss recusing himself. Because the issue received its public hearing last month, no more public comments were heard Tuesday. Developer Jim MacPhaille attended the meeting, but did not address the commission.

Jimmy John’s on Maple | Another Uptown project that has drawn considerable opposition to be heard Tuesday was a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop proposed for 7621 Maple Street.

The Jimmy John’s chain has 1,200 locations, including one in Metairie opened by Drew Brees, one of the owners of the local franchise. To open on Maple Street, the restaurant needs a conditional use as a fast-food establishment, though attorney Basile Uddo took issue with that term in all but the technical sense — there will be no frying, nor any drive-through there, he said.

“It is a very small-scale operation, when you think of fast food. It’s a neighborhood sandwich shop,” Uddo said.

The planning report, however, includes a petition of about 40 neighborhood residents opposing any “fast food” establishment on Maple Street. The only one to appear Tuesday was Kirk Groome, who said the neighborhood is strongly opposed to the Jimmy Johns.

“We have enough restaurants, too many ABOs [places serving alcohol] and not enough neighborhood-friendly establishments,” Groome said. “We are struggling to try and keep our neighborhood together.”

Commissioners Joseph Williams and Pam Bryant had already left by this point in the meeting, and the Jimmy Johns issue split the remaining commissioners, with four members voting in favor of it and two opposed, Sloss and Commission Chair Craig Mitchell (both of whom refused to discuss their decisions after the meeting). Because planning commission rules call for a majority of its members, or five, to recommend approval, the Jimmy Johns proposal will receive no recommendation from the commission when it reaches the City Council.

Finger Lick’n Wings | A proposal to add alcohol sales at the Finger Lick’n Wings restaurant on Jackson Avenue had a rocky hearing before the commission, starting with the staff’s recommendation to deny the request based on the apparent ease of converting the restaurant into a bar. Business owner Marlon Horton (also known as the bounce artist 10th Ward Buck, author of “The Definition of Bounce” and performer of “Drop and Give Me 50,” used on HBO’s Treme) disputed that notion, arguing that he’s been serving wings for years now and wants to add alcohol sales to be competitive with other, similar restaurants.

“It’s a full service restaurant,” Horton says. “I have the same menu as WOW Wingery or any other restaurant.”

Horton told the commission that he has reached a good-neighbor agreement with the Irish Channel Neighborhood Association and the Coliseum Square Association, but a paperwork snafu apparently prevented that agreement from being included in the planning staff’s report, which Volz said made the issue difficult to evaluate. The staff later found the document, but noted that it was not a signed version, and Volz said that he’d been told personally that the Coliseum Square Association did not agree to it.

Commissioner George Amedee proposed allowing alcohol sales at Finger Lick’n Wings with the standard provisos (such as 10 p.m. closing and no alcohol signage) to prevent it from morphing into a bar, but only garnered a total of four votes, one shy of the five needed. Commissioner Lois Carlos Williams then proposed deferring the issue until the next meeting, with more commissioners will be present to vote, and that motion passed unanimously. Volz said afterward that if the issue with the good neighbor agreements can be straightened out, he may be inclined to support the idea.

Apartments at Laurence Square Park | A proposal to redevelop the former St. Vincent convent of the Daughters of Charity that abuts Laurence Square Park on Napoleon into a seven-unit apartment building passed easily. Developer Tom Winingder said the building has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina and is now owned by a group out of New York, and beseeched the board for an up-or-down decision Tuesday because his contract to buy it expires in May.

Volz, the lone opposing vote, called the plan to put seven parking places fronting on Jena Street “appropriate in Metairie or Manhattan Boulevard, but not in Uptown New Orleans.” Supporters of the project replied that the building has the quirk of having two “fronts,” one on the park and one on Jena. When Volz needled Commissioner Sloss about voting in support of that parking arrangement, Sloss replied, “It’s the back front yard, not the front front yard.”

The project has the support of the Bouligny Improvement Association.

Lotz Culinary | A restaurant-supply store that has hopped around the area since Hurricane Katrina won approval Tuesday to return to New Orleans with a location on Carondelet Street, in the old Fleet Tire Service building next to the Pontchartrain Expressway. The applicant told the commission that the business will primarily stock non-food items needed by restaurants.

Uptown Car Wash | The Planning Commission voted unanimously, with no opposition and very little discussion, to recommend approval of the sale of a closed portion of South Front Street to Uptown Car Wash.

The recommendations of the Planning Commission will next be forwarded to the City Council, where each issue can be heard anew.

To read our live coverage of Tuesday’s City Planning Commission meeting, see the box below.

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