Oct 312018

A rendering of the building at 4528 Freret Street after its proposed redevelopment into a grocery store with condos above the parking lot. Architect Nick Marshall noted that the building was a Canal Villere grocery store in the 1970s and 80s. (image courtesy of Chase Marshall architects)

The New Orleans City Council is expected to decide Thursday on whether to allow a proposed grocery store in the former Publiq House space at the Neighborhood Housing Services building on Freret Street as well as 24 adjacent condo units, the first of what is now two current efforts to bring groceries to the booming neighborhood.

Neighborhood Housing Services, which owns the building, has partnered with the developer Green Coast Enterprises on the project, which includes three separate elements in and on the property at 4528 Freret Street. The downstairs of the current building, formerly occupied by the Publiq House bar, would become the grocery. The building’s second floor would remain offices, attempting to match those of Neighborhood Housing Services already there with other agencies and nonprofits that provide similar services.

The third component, and that which has drawn the most scrutiny from city planners and neighbors alike, is to construct a new 24-unit condominium over the existing parking lot adjacent to the building, spanning the block from Freret Street to LaSalle Street. Neighbors have said that while they generally welcome the grocery, they worry that further increasing the density on Freret Street will add to existing traffic and parking problems that already threaten commerce for some businesses and impede residents’ access to their homes.

A rendering of the condo structure next to the proposed grocery at 4528 Freret. (via city of New Orleans)

The project requires two separate actions from the City Council. The first is a conditional-use permit to allow the grocery in to occupy a space larger than 5,000 square feet, and the second is a rezoning of the rear, LaSalle-facing portion of the lot from residential to commercial, allowing the construction of the condos there. Even without permission from the City Council, the developers could still build 18 condo units over the front, Freret portion of the parking lot, they have said, so the rezoning functionally adds only six additional units.

The city planning staff in September had recommended allowing the grocery but restricting the condo building to the 18-unit layout on Freret, based on concerns about commercial incursion into the neighborhood. Some of the planning commissioners agreed with the staff, but others said the merits of the project (including an attempt to generate as much energy as it uses with solar panels) made it a good fit for the neighborhood overall, and they voted 5-2 to send it to the City Council with a recommendation for approval.

Green Coast has not yet announced a tenant for the grocery, but said that small, urban groceries are a growing market segment in America, and that they would begin those negotiations after they secure City Council approval. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the announcement by Rouses last week that they plan to build their own grocery barely a block away in the former Bloomin’ Deals space affects the deliberation by the Council, as some of the neighborhood opponents of the Green Coast plan have announced support for the Rouses project.

The deadline for City Council action on the proposal is Nov. 19, but because of the Thanksgiving holidays, the only Council meetings in November are Thursday (Nov. 1) and Nov. 29. Thus, a decision is needed at Thursday’s meeting, and District B City Councilman Jay H. Banks’ office confirmed that the issue will be heard that day.

The City Council meeting begins at 10 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, 1300 Perdido Street, and is open to the public.

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