City officials approved a developer’s request Monday to tear down the Roly Poly building on Tchoupitoulas, to the dismay of the restaurant’s current employees, but the new bank intended for the site is still lacks permission to tear down an adjacent house.
The demolition application by Butler Callahan Holdings calls for the Roly Poly at 5409 Tchoupitoulas and the house behind it at 305-07 Octavia to be torn down in April, and for a new Regions Bank with drive-through lanes to be built in place of both of them.In a meeting Monday before the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee (which hears demolition requests), Marilyn Feldmeier of the Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association said that neighbors are fine with the demolition of the Roly Poly and the proposed construction of the bank. They are concerned, however, that the property with the house on it is actually zoned light industrial, and would like to see its demolition tied to some sort of agreement or proviso that the replacement for the house will actually be a bank, and not some less-desirable use if the bank deal fails.
“If the Regions is going in, the neighborhood’s very supportive,” Feldmeier said. “If for some reason that would fall through over the next two months, it opens up some possibilities that the neighborhood might not be so exited about.”
Ben Butler of Butler Callahan promised to keep neighbors informed, and that he had not intention of building a drug store or other high-volume business that the neighbors object to.
“I’m not putting a CVS. I’m not putting a gas station. I’m not putting any fast-food,” Butler said.
NCDC members said, however, that they can’t make a demolition permit contingent on some future building permit — they can either approve it, deny it or delay it. When Feldmeier said the neighborhood would be more comfortable with more time to strike some sort of agreement with Butler Callahan about the use of the Octavia Street property, the NCDC voted 7-1 to postpone the issue for two weeks until the next meeting, April 21.
The meeting them moved on to the Roly Poly lot on Tchoupitoulas, and Feldmeier reiterated that neighbors are unopposed to its demolition. The NCDC quickly voted 7-0 (with one member abstaining) to approve that demolition.
Butler left the meeting chambers in between the vote on Octavia and the subsequent decision on Tchoupitoulas, and did not reply to an emailed inquiry afterward as to how the demolition timeline will be affected.
After the meeting, Roly Poly manager Alex Lambert called the decision “unfortunate.” The restaurant has yet to receive any sort of notice from Butler Callahan that demolition is planned, but Lambert said he has been looking unsuccessfully for a new location for several weeks.
“This is really disheartening,” Lambert said. “That store’s been there for 10 years.”
Roly Poly built the store in 2004, he said, and Lambert — a De La Salle graduate with a degree in marketing — began working there as an hourly employee that August. After Hurricane Katrina, it was able to reopen within just a few weeks, and because so few other restaurants were open nearby, the location broke national sales records for the franchise, earning personal visits and commendations from the company’s owners, Lambert said.
But in 2014, the store also faced a major drop in sales once construction on Jefferson Avenue blocked traffic coming from Magazine, Lambert said. That same construction on so many thoroughfares — Napoleon, Louisiana and Claiborne — has made finding a viable new Uptown location a challenge, he said.
Without a firm timeline for closure, Lambert said he has not begun discussing the issue with his seven employees in detail yet. If no new location can be found, they will likely find opportunities at the franchise’s other area stores, which may have to add staff to retain the Tchoupitoulas store’s large catering contracts with Uptown schools and other institutions.
In recent years, the property has changed hands several times, and rumors about its future use have been swirling so long they almost became a joke, Lambert said. But now, as the Regions Bank redevelopment has worked its way through City Hall, Lambert said customers have begun asking every day what the plan for Roly Poly is.
“Our customers have been genuinely concerned, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to tell these people,” Lambert said. “I just really don’t like the fact that a company can just come in and kick us out.”
* * *
The NCDC also approved the demolition of the Subway building at 2900 South Claiborne, which is slated to become the new corner parcel for the Magnolia Marketplace development with a Raising Cane’s chicken-finger restaurant.
Uptown resident Scott Zander received permission to tear down his house at 1001 Webster Street and replace it with a new, larger home for his family. Zander said they had begun by trying to renovate it, but that structural issues due to uneven subsidence made that course impractical.
Eleanor Burke of the Historic District Landmark Commission said Zander’s current home was part of the historic fabric of the neighborhood, and should not be so easily replaced. Hilary Carrere of Safety and Permits countered, however, that Zander had his neighbors’ support for his request. NCDC member Helen Jones said she expected to see many more similar requests in the near future, and the demolition was approved by a 6-2 vote.
Other Uptown properties approved for demolition Monday included: 1706 Tchoupitoulas; 3429 Willow in the Milan neighborhod; 2904 Second St, 2322 Third Street, 2233-35 Harmony Street, 2415 Dryades and 1426 Baronne Street — all in Central City; 3404-06 Delachaise in Broadmoor; 2922 Monroe, 2934 Eagle and 8824 Fig Street — all in Hollygrove; and 1213 S. Telemachus in Gert Town.
See below for our live coverage of the meeting.