Support Growing Across the City for More Compact Development
The Board of Directors and membership of the Lengsfield Lofts Condominium Association, the adjoining property owners to the proposed 16-story, 187-foot tall Tracage condominium project in the Historic Warehouse District Area, voted unanimously on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, to withhold their support for any project on that site that exceeds the 125 feet height limit recommended in the draft comprehensive zoning ordinance created to accompany the city’s new master plan.
Tracage Development appeared before the City’s Board of Zoning Adjustments on March 11 seeking an extension of time to “allow us to have some additional runway to ensure that we appease our neighbors,” according to Stephen King, Spectrum Capital vice president. The BZA granted their request. But neighbors are far from happy.
In June, 2012, District B Interim Councilmember Diana Bajoie introduced an ordinance which was unanimously approved to establish the Lafayette Square/Warehouse District Refined Height Plan Interim Zoning District. The Downtown Development District and the District B Council Office had previously formed the Lafayette Square/Warehouse District Historic Area Task Force “to study and make recommendations on the appropriate height and massing of proposed development projects” in these two downtown New Orleans historic districts.
DDD President and CEO Kurt Weigle said that “achieving consensus and bringing predictability to the development process were important goals of this ground breaking effort.”
This DDD-funded study was the most recent attempt to set a clear development future for what are now two of New Orleans’ most desirable mixed use neighborhoods – compact, walkable, conveniently situated to dining, shopping, museums and entertainment venues as well as the city’s premier business corridors.
The Warehouse District Historic Area and the Lafayette Square Historic District have undergone many land use changes throughout the centuries. While residential construction began in the Lafayette Square neighborhood in the 1820′s, the Warehouse District Historic Area serviced the commercial and industrial needs of the City’s maritime industry almost exclusively until the 1984 World’s Fair.
After the World’s Fair, both the construction of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the redevelopment of warehouses into apartments and condominiums forever changed the character of the area. As more residents moved in, they began to view their surroundings as a neighborhood and expected a certain quality of life. Since Hurricane Katrina the population of the two neighborhoods has almost doubled. Any available apartments and reasonably priced condominiums have been snatched up quickly. Developers like Spectrum Capital LLC are eager to consider any parcels that could accommodate redevelopment or new construction.
As is their mandate, the City Planning Commission has continued to define appropriate land use in all New Orleans neighborhoods. They recommend strongly that there should be more massive developments along the edges of both downtown neighborhoods and smaller developments at the CBD’s core. Thus projects like the proposed South Market District are desirable economic development and job creation tools.
The height limits in the CBD’s many zoning sub-districts have varied greatly and developers frequently requested and received variances. The City Planning Commission wanted to create a improved set of rules for the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that made sense for all stakeholders. After much study and meetings with neighborhood residents, the City Planning Commission recommended a height limit of 125 feet in many downtown sub-districts. The CZO has yet to be enacted.
When the project was initially proposed, the zoning sub-district where the Tracage site is located (Tracage means “loft’ in French), did not have a height limitation. Tracage developers originally suggested a 24 story condominium tower, which quickly generated controversy. Council President Stacy Head, who represented District B at that time, sought to put controls in place while the CZO was still in the planning stages. She asked the Downtown Development District to fund a Lafayette Square/Warehouse District Historic Area Height Study.
Recommendations from the Height Study were included in an Interim Zoning District presented for Council consideration by Councilmembers Head and Bajoie. The IZD reduced the height of the Tracage project to 187 feet (16 stories). Many neighborhood residents supported the IZD recommendations thinking they were the best solution possible.
In recent months residents began to reflect on the CPC’s decision to establish a 125 feet height limit in many of the sub-districts. They realized that the 125 feet height limit was preferable to their quality of life. Residents determined that a taller structure will not only forever change the nature and character of the Warehouse District, but will also result in significant parking and traffic challenges to the neighborhood.
The Lengsfield Lofts Condominium Association, Warehouse District Neighborhood Association, and Warehouse District Preservation, Inc. strongly support the imposition of the 125 feet height limit. “We call upon City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell to introduce a new ordinance to protect the quality of life of residents in this growing community,” said Sal Figueroa, a member of Warehouse District Preservation, Inc.
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