Aug 102018
 

The building at Louisiana Avenue, photographed in December 2017. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

After months of negotiations over a controversial proposal for a small ice-cream parlor on Louisiana Avenue and even a tentative vote in its favor, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday against allowing the business — yet again demonstrating the council’s growing intolerance of short-term rentals deemed problematic by neighbors.

Property owner Reginald Commodore initially proposed that the “Love Kreme” ice-cream shop at 940 Louisiana Avenue with short-term rental apartments attached to it nearly a year ago, but then-City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell urged him to rewrite the plan without the short-term rental component that drew vehement ire from neighbors. Commodore returned to City Planning Commission with a scaled-back plan that would not require rezoning, and his request for a neighborhood-business permit arrived back at the City Council with a May deadline — just days after Jay H. Banks was sworn in as the new City Councilman for District B.

District B City Councilman Jay H. Banks speaks at a meeting of the Faubourg Delachase Neighborhood Association about short-term rentals in December 2017. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Some neighbors remained opposed to the smaller project, so Banks asked the Council to pass the motion to keep it from expiring on deadline while he convened more meetings to try to resolve the neighborhood disagreement. He held the ordinance from its final reading — usually a just a routine vote — and on Thursday, brought the matter back to the full City Council.

“It’s not ice-cream infused with marijuana, or ice cream laced with alcohol. I feel it’s important to make this distinction because I’m confused as to the level of opposition to just selling ice-cream,” Commodore told the Council in an opening statement alluding to the ongoing rancor over the project.

During his presentation, Commodore played multiple clips of Banks speaking during the election about his support for small businesses in neighborhoods, and he rejected the notion that he has operated short-term rentals improperly. The opposition to his business, Commodore said, has been solely by a few neighbors who make up less than a block’s worth of homes.

“These same few have made other false claims to the zoning department and believe they can discourage me from pursuing my dream with these illegitimate allegations,” Commodore said.

Commodore’s attorney Charlene Gibson reiterated Commodore’s made his proposal at the urging of the previous City Council. Further, the current council already voted in favor of the project in May, Gibson said, suggesting that the May vote should be binding.

“To entertain another hearing as if this is a novel matter is an unsanctioned practice,” Gibson said. “I respectfully request that this council acknowledges the import of the vote they have already taken May 24, which remains unappealed and final.”

Even after the additional meetings over the summer, however, neighbors remained opposed to commercial use of the building. Those closest to the building are the ones most strongly concerned about the increase in tourist traffic, and said the property would be better served with continued residential use.

“We’re not opposed to selling ice cream,” said Kathy Vavra. “It just needs to be in the proper place.”

This time, Banks said while he is inclined to support the project in theory, the history of the property derails his enthusiasm for it.

“My position on small businesses in neighborhoods has not changed. My position on creating opportunities for our children has not wavered one ounce,” Banks said. “But we should not do anything that is not going to bring damage and detriment to our neighborhoods.

“Now, if you had told me six months ago that ice cream would cause this much heartburn, I would not have believed that,” Banks continued. “We have spent countless hours trying to work this out. We came up with a plan that I thought was workable in terms of having numerous provisos placed on this.”

Some of the neighbors’ opposition was “reasonable and logical,” and some was more intractable and likely based on “other issues,” Banks said. But when neighbors asked how Banks could expect Commodore to follow the provisos set by the City Council when, since 2012, “there have been 11 citations on the short-term rental — 11,” Banks said, he could not find a good answer.

“It’s kind of hard to say somebody’s going to play by this set of rules, when they’re not playing by the rules that they already have,” Banks said. “I fundamentally believe that having an ice-cream parlor at that location is not the end of the world. I do not see a problem with having an ice cream parlor as long as it stays within the lines.”

Ultimately, Banks arrived at a different conclusion, he said — deny the ice-cream parlor, and allow Commodore to prove he can follow the ordinances already in place at the property.

“He has regulations that he has to accommodate right now,” Banks said. “If he stays within those lines a year and comes back and reapplies, I’m going to support it and I’m going to ask my colleagues to support it. But he’s got to demonstrate he’s going to play by the rules.”

Without any further discussion, the rest of the Council followed suit and voted 7-0 to deny the ice-cream parlor.

To watch the debate, see below: