As I wrestled over what I might pen this week I read over the transcript from yesterday’s CPC meeting regarding the rezoning request of 4877 Laurel so that it might become realized as a coffeehouse. And when I read the ridiculous decision crafted by the commission, my inner green apron got ruffled. That the CPC voted against a rezoning by 6 to 1 and with very little if any support from attendees on the matter, frankly baffles me. But then we are talking about a government entity in the City of New Orleans; maybe I shouldn’t be surprised? Le sigh.
Criminy crabcakes, people! We’re talking about a distinctive, most recently (and notably) city-owned blight of a non-residence seeking to produce tax revenue and jobs all in the very familiar setting of a café. Not as a strip club. Nor as a massage parlor. Or even any other unsavory scene. But a business. That serves coffee. The world’s most popular beverage, I think.
While I understand an approval would formally require a change of zoning from the present and rather sterile RM-2 to the swagger of the sultry B-1A, and most in the know are staunchly against spot zoning, the facts in this specific case fall plainly and clearly that an exception should be made. And that really if the CPC votes against such a change, thereby deferring it to the higher power of the City Council, what use are they? This matter clearly held the majority of the neighborhood in favor beyond the matter that this building was never once a residence anyhow. Doesn’t the City Council have bigger issues to contend with than to right the errs of the CPC? Is there really a valid reason not to change the zoning apart from “The Master plan says so”? Ever stop to think the Master Plan isn’t always right? Or as a title attorney I heard speak recently recount an exchange with a judge wherein the judge cited knowing a law was being broken but that the law in question law simply was not fair. So, apart from the law, is it fair that the CPC voted down the rezoning? You tell me. But before you do, know this:
Coffeehouses - a part from serving variations of that wonderful caffeinated elixir - absolutely define the sober foundation of sharing in a public forum civilized thought, spanning generations over centuries and across continents even. But hey, let’s vote against one, shall we? I’m inclined to wonder:
(a) If a single member of the CPC has ever worked for minimum wage in a neighborhood setting? And
(b) If they have, pray tell was it in a café?
I’m going to go with hearty “never” and therefore followed up with a stern “not even close.” If they had they would know this about a coffeehouse: in three words, it breeds community. And no, that’s not a reference to the revered regional brand.
When I did wear a green apron all those years ago, among the other catchphrases and lingo that by way of osmosis invade the cerebellum and spew forth from the ol’ pie hole I give you: the third place. Starbucks’ firm resolve remains that the café setting provides a place different from home (first place) and different from work (second place) and therefore that missing go-to spot (third place). And they’re not wrong. Only, all cafés do this; Starbucks just put it into words, then make its dutiful baristas codify it in mantra. Can I get a “One of us”? Before I wore a green apron I wore a maroon one (at the now long gone CC’s on S Carrollton next to Camellia Grill), but more importantly before that I didn’t wear an apron at all. For almost four years at uniform-less PJ’s I floated between Maple St and Tulane, and for those years and all the others, the café spaces were always spaces reflective of their neighborhood environs, the positives they bring being unquestionable. Again, cafés breed community. In if New Orleans is about nothing else, it is easily this.
So wake up, City Planning Commission! You dropped the ball, and this was an easy catch. Glass half-full here is knowing the next level goes before City Council and this being LaToya Cantrell’s district, the fight for this little firehouse ain’t over. I say reach out to Mrs. Cantrell and encourage her support on the matter. It clearly needs it, and the neighborhood clearly wants it.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.