Aug 132014
 
The former fountain store at 7901 St. Charles Avenue. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The former fountain store at 7901 St. Charles Avenue. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

An architect's sketch by Albert Architecture of a condo building proposed for the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Fern Street. (via nola.gov)

An architect’s sketch of a condo building proposed for the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Fern Street. (via nola.gov)

A shuttered St. Charles Avenue fountain store that began life as a gas station decades ago should not be torn down to make room for a new condominium building, a group of city officials recommended on Tuesday.

The building at 7901 St. Charles Avenue was most recently used to sell French fountains and other decorative stone, but its former use as a gas station dates back to at least 1937, according to city documents. Oster Development of Old Metairie is proposing a three-story, six-unit condo building for the property — which would involve tearing down the old shop.

Don Oster of Oster Development told the City Planning Commission on Tuesday that he is aware of the neighborhood’s attachment to the building, so he looked into whether it could be moved to another site. Unfortunately, he said, the design of the building and its deteriorated condition make moving it impossible.

“The building is in disarray, and could not withstand the attempt to move it,” Oster said. “The building is full, and I do mean full, of active termites. … If I could figure out a way to move the building, I would be happy to do it.”

Oster’s plan drew the support of one nearby neighborhood group, Maple Area Residents Inc. Dorothea Martin, the president of the association, said that it seems unlikely that the building will be renovated, and that if a new use isn’t found, it will simply continue to deteriorate.

“As the streetcar goes by, you’ll be able to point to a ruin,” Martin said.

The city planning staff had recommended against the project as well, citing a number of issues. First, the zoning in that area of St. Charles only permits apartments in historic buildings, not in new construction. Second, the specific type of zoning Oster is requesting is usually reserved for much larger developments — those that take up a half a city block or more.

Neighbors, however, were upset about the size of the building on the corner of Fern Street, and the loss of the unique little building that has for so long been part of the St. Charles Avenue landscape.

“The idea of a six-unit facility on this tiny little lot is so upsetting to me,” said Courtney Bullock, a neighbor on Fern Street. “I can’t believe someone would want this as their neighbor on this cute, quaint street.”

Dennis Herlihy of the Uptown Triangle Neighborhood Association said he attended an informational meeting hosted by the developers, and the majority of the neighbors were opposed to the project there.

“The major concern was the neighborhood emotional attachment to that property and its value, seeing a developer coming in and attempting to demolish a part of our culture,” Herlihy said.

Oster said he understands neighbors’ concerns about parking, but that the condo proposal calls for 12 parking spaces on the site — two for each condo. Any commercial use of the current shop, Oster said, will surely cause more parking congestion in the neighborhood than his condo plan.

“Any use I can think of for that commercial building is going to generate a much larger parking nightmare for that neighborhood than these six condominium homes would,” Oster said.

The City Planning Commissioners were more swayed by the technical argument against the proposal made by the planning staff, which Commissioner Robert Steeg called “clear in its reasoning.” The commission voted 7-0 to deny the developers’ request, but Commissioner Kyle Wedberg urged neighbors to be realistic about the future of the property.

“At some point, a developer is going to come in front of you, and it would behoove the neighborhood to get behind some alternative use,” Wedberg said. “It sounds like the case of this structure is that it doesn’t have much longevity left as a commercial structure.”

The City Planning Commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for a final decision.

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  • pfvayda

    Well thank goodness the CPC turned down a 6 unit condo on that site. Wish I had the cash to buy the building … would make a great art gallery. Hope someone comes up with a good plan to keep the delightful building and make it into something worthwhile.

  • Deux amours

    I actually bought a fountain there once, and I sometimes park in their driveway when going to Vincent’s. It is hard to imagine a six unit residential building there. I understood the fountain store was merely to maintain the non-conforming commercial use from being lost. People who buy into such difficult properties are asking for trouble. It is hard to imagine what could be done there legally unless they bought cheap. A single family home would work, I guess. It will probably remain out of commerce for the rest of my life, like that lot next to the Rite-Aid on St. Charles and Broadway.

  • TE

    Why not make it a gas station again. Would not only look better and would be more interesting than those eyesore gas stations on Magazine Street.

  • Cmb6091

    I have been inside this building recently. It is in total despair and also has a mold issue. I am in no way qualified to make a professional assessment, but I do not believe in my opinion that this building can be saved. I respect the neighbors’ opinions, but sooner or later this building will have to come down. I think that the proposal set forth would ensure no new parking issues and would actually increase home values in the area. However, a blighted property that will eventually become rodent infested or another commercial venture would surely be a negative impact on the area.

  • UptownMessenger

    Duly noted and corrected. Thanks for the comment.

  • Craig

    “Any commercial use of the current shop, Oster said, will surely cause more parking congestion in the neighborhood than his condo plan. ‘Any use I can think of for that commercial building is going to generate a much larger parking nightmare…’”

    What utter nonsense. A 9-to-5 business’s parking needs would be non-existent in the evening hours when residents come home from work looking to park vehicles. Oster clearly isn’t “thinking” very hard. Of course he would choose the word “nightmare.” The fearmongering couldn’t be more obvious.

  • James

    Why don’t one of these neighbors buy the building and property, pour hundreds of thousands of their dollars to save this “unique little building” that is infested with termites on this “quaint little street”? Buildings of this nature have life spans…and this one is done. Not all “unique” little gas stations deserve, or realistically and financially can be saved. Six owner occupied condos would not negatively impact that area of St. Charles but a derelict “unique little building” and rodent infested property will.

  • ultimateliberal

    Wish I had the money to buy this place. I envision it as a two-unit rental investment with parking space and picturesque potted gardens. But with the termite issue, the renovation/conversion costs would be very high. I wouldn’t change a square inch of the exterior, except where the garage doors exist. I will buy this termite infested property from Oster for $1, if he’d let me.