A proposed change to city law that would allow gas stations on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Lower Garden District failed to find support Monday evening among members of the Coliseum Square Association, but the Sterling Express fresh-food store planned for one intersection there will press forward with its opening whether its fuel pumps are approved by the City Council or not, developers told the group.
Sterling Express is a new concept for New Orleans being developed by actor Wendell Pierce and former mayoral candidate Troy Henry to bring more diverse, healthier food options to areas underserved by grocery stores. The stores also attempt to reduce one of the classic costs of being poor — higher prices for food charged in quick stops — by offering the food items at grocery-store prices, development partners Jim Hatchett and Brandon Henry (Troy’s son) told the association.
Fuel sales are only intended to be a small part of the business model, and diesel sales to trucks an even smaller fraction — the store plans for 12 normal-sized pumps in front and two bays in the back for the large trucks that travel Tchoupitoulas to serve the port, they said. Gas stations are currently not allowed by zoning on that section of Tchoupitoulas, however, and if the City Council does not grant the developers’ request to change the law, they will continue their plans to open Sterling Express and two adjacent stores with as-yet-undetermined tenants in the building, Henry and Hatchett said.
In fact, because retail sales are permitted in the zoning, most of the building’s frame has already been built and it is in the process of being enclosed.
While the Coliseum Square Association membership appreciated the fact that the project is being built on a vacant lot, they remained troubled by several aspects, they said. First, they do not support the broad change to city law adding gas stations to the zoning on Tchoupitoulas. Second, they voiced substantial concerns about the effect of the truck bays on traffic — not so much by increasing the number of cars, but because of how many lanes of Tchoupitoulas and Religious the trucks will block making wide turns into and out of the site. Third, several members of the association decried what they called the suburban, strip-mall style plan for the building, and said it should have been submitted to the Historic District Landmarks Commission’s architectural review committee.
“These are the kind of things that we have for years not wanted Tchoupitoulas to be full of,” said association president Robert Wolf. “We don’t want to be Veterans Boulevard.”
Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to write a letter to City Council opposing the gasoline sales at the store, based on the concerns above. The city planning staff had previously recommended allowing gasoline sales, but not the bays for large trucks, but the commissioners vote was split on the issue. The City Council deadline to decide on the project is Jan. 5, and the last City Council meeting prior to then is Dec. 20.
For live coverage of the meeting, see below.