Jun 232017

The former Zara’s building on Prytania after renovations began, photographed in April 2016. (via Google Maps)

By Canela Lopez

The owners of the former Zara’s location on Prytania Street in the Lower Garden District still plan to move forward with their plan for a new neighborhood grocery there, but need to rezone the property in order to proceed, they told neighbors Monday night.

Members of the Coliseum Square Association gathered Tuesday night at Felicity Church to hear a status update and appeal to rezone 2042 Prytania Street in order to finish development ofthe small grocery store intended to take the place of the former Zara’s.

When construction began in 2015, owners Robby and Liz Blum set out to create a small neighborhood grocery store for the area. However, due to zoning regulations classifying the property as HU-RD2, or two-family residential district, the Blooms had to pause development of the project.

Nicole Webre, the Blums’ consultant for the development project, said that when the Blums purchased the property in 2015, a permit from the previous tenant had been grandfathered in and gave the property legal nonconforming commercial use, which would allow it to operate as a grocery store or restaurant. This permit later expired during the development process, halting progress on the project.

“The renovation process, which they went through at great length to make sure that they conformed to HDLC’s regulations, developedf it into something that was more appropriate for the neighborhood, something that looked more historic than the former facade that you can see,” Webre said. “And now they’ve done such a beautiful job renovating it, making it look like something that is definitely more appropriate for the neighborhood. However, in that process, they lost their legal nonconforming use and weren’t able to finish it.”

According to Webre, the property would need to be rezoned as HU-MU or historic mixed use in order to ensure a grocery store or restaurant code legally operate.

Concerns were raised about the consequences of having an HU-MU property in the area during the question and answer period of the presentation. President of the CSA Julie Simpson said though she was in support of the project, she didn’t understand why a less disruptive zoning classification wouldn’t be suggested first.

“Personally, I fully support a small grocery here but my concern is why the jump to HU-MU,” Simpson said. “Why wouldn’t you go for HU-B1 or something more small business because HU-MU– there’s a whole host of possibilities with that corner. If you sell, if it goes out of business, we could have something else besides a small grocery there.”

The reasoning behind having the HU-MU classification, according to Webre, is because in addition to having the grocery store on the bottom floor of the building, the Blums intended to convert the top floor into a residential area and the HU-MU would be the most likely to allow that.

Before voting on whether or not the Blums would receive the approval of the CSA to move forward with requesting the rezoning from City Council, similar questions to Simpson’s were echoed in the audience.

“It’s clear everyone here wants to see this move forward, but I just think it’s in our best interest to reach out to y’all apply for the lowest level of zoning,” CSA board member Trenton Gauthier said.

The possibility of alcohol sale under the HU-MU classification was a strong point of contention. According to the HU-MU classification policy under the Historic District Landmarks Commission, alcohol sale would not be permitted without a conditional use permit that would have to be approved by City Council.

After a few more minutes of discussion over the zoning classifications concerns with HU-MU, CSA board member and City Council candidate Catherine Love made a motion for the board to support pursuit of the HU-B1 or Neighborhood Business District classification, rather than the HU-MU.

“I make a motion we support them going after the HU-B1…,” Love said. “And in addition to that we support you guys selling alcohol.”

The vote passed with an overwhelming majority in support of the motion and a walk through of the property will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, June 26.

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