The 110-year-old building was bought at an Orleans Parish School Board surplus-property auction in November for $1.2 million by a development group represented by Steve Montagnet at Tuesday’s meeting of the City Planning Commission. Their plan, according to a report by the commission staff, is to create 25 apartments ranging in size from 443 to 1,212 square feet inside the 25,000 square foot building, without needing any exterior construction.
Because the school sits on land with an old zoning classification for two-family homes, the developers had requested to be zoned RM-4, which could have also included uses as a hotel or commercial shops with no height limits. Instead, the planning staff recommended rezoning the building RM-2A, which is more strictly tailored to residential uses and does include height limits — and Montagnet said the developers had no problem with that recommendation.
Though they praised the developer’s credentials and said they welcomed residential redevelopment of the former Free School, about a half dozen residents near the building did have concerns, however, that 25 units is too many. They cited the city’s more recent Master Plan designation of residential low-density for the area, and said the maximum number of apartments that designation would allow would be 18. That number, they said, still seems high, but would be preferable to the developer’s proposal.
“The number exceeds anything we have in that area on that scale,” said James Smoak, president of the Touro-Bouligny Neighborhood Association.
Montagnet replied that he had already reduced the density of the project at neighbors’ request — he had originally planned two more units in the attic of the building, but decided against it upon meeting with neighbors. He noted that the developers are not asking for any special exceptions beyond the zoning that the city staff already deems appropriate.
“I’m doing all I can to please everybody, but I’m also trying to get this beautiful building restored,” Montagnet said.
The neighbors also worried about the impact of parking. The site plan calls for 25 off-street parking spaces, but neighbors say most units would likely have more than one car, and that on-street parking is already hard to find on Camp Street.
With those issues in mind, the neighbors asked repeatedly for a deferral of the project to have more time to meet with the developer. With little discussion, the planning commission agreed, voting unanimously to postpone a decision on the project until June 25.
To read our live coverage of Tuesday’s meeting, see below.