The city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments sided with the developers of the “Fallen Saint” immersive-theater venue on lower Magazine Street this week, rejecting a challenge to the project by opponents of the project and essentially clearing the way for final approval by the New Orleans City Council.
The former warehouse at 1152 Magazine St. is slated to be renovated into a venue for a permanent theater show called the “The Fallen Saint,” a jazz-themed performance set in Prohibition-era New Orleans in which attendees will mingle with performers through a series of small rooms inside. The owners, Seth and Rosa Dunlap, won unanimous approval from the City Council for the land-use changes the project needs in October, despite an opposition campaign led by some nearby neighbors.
While the City Council decision was nearing, those neighbors also filed a separate challenge to a decision by the Department of Safety and Permits classifying the project as an “indoor amusement facility,” which also includes bowling alleys and arcades. During the City Council meeting in October, District B Councilman Jay H. Banks promised the other council members that if that challenge prevailed, he would withdraw the ordinance allowing the land-use changes for the project.
The developers fired back with their own legal argument — that the original zoning classification of an “indoor amusement facility” was made in May, and that the opponents waited far too long after the city’s 45-day deadline to appeal it. On Monday morning, the Board of Zoning Adjustments convened in a meeting to resolve the claims, debating for more than an hour about technical interpretations of when precisely the city’s Department of Safety and Permits made the “indoor amusement facility” determination.
City officials acknowledged that the question has been posed to them on at least three occasions — in May, August and September — but the zoning board ultimately decided that the question had been settled prior to September. The appeal period had expired for both the May and August dates, so the entire appeal was too late, the zoning board decided.
“Apparently the question was asked and answered well before the September letter,” said zoning board member Toddy James.
Attorney David Halpern, representing the project’s opponents, said that the description of the project by the proponents had “morphed” during the early discussions, and he encouraged the board to consider the question anyway, given the ambiguity over the date.
“All we really want is an opportunity to tell the story.” Halpern said. “The board typically errs on the side of getting information rather than being hyper technical.”
Board chair Candice Richards Forest, however, said the time to have that discussion had passed.
“If we make a decision, it’s based on whether or not this request is properly before us,” Forest said. “Your argument wasn’t properly brought before us because it wasn’t timely.”
The board then voted unanimously in favor of rejecting the appeal, clearing the City Council to give final approval to the ordinances allowing the venue to proceed.
To watch video of the discussion, see below: