The City Planning Commission gave its support Tuesday to allowing Kevin Chaouat, a former Xavier University tennis player and now a coach at Xavier, to establish a tennis club to the Dixon area.
The City Council had voted Thursday, Nov. 7, to approve an amendment to Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that allows country clubs in residential neighborhoods. The tennis center is classified as a “country club” for zoning purposes. The City Council now has to revisit the issue, to vote on allowing Chaouat’s project as a conditional use.
Chaouat has said he wants to create a tennis center that is a place for play and instruction at all levels, from beginner to professional. The business plan for his New Orleans Racquet Club includes accessibility for Dixon community members, particularly children.
The New Orleans Racquet Club promises to offer, in addition to state-of-art courts, junior programs at all levels, a dedicated area (and help) for homework, lessons in French and Spanish, and amenities such as infrared saunas, according to its website.
“Kevin learned about life through tennis,” said Chaouat’s land-use attorney, Mike Sherman. “His dream is to build this facility in the shadow of Xavier.”
Chaouat found a vacant lot in Dixon, behind Costco and close to the expressway, that had been on the market since the Hurricane Katrina and levee failures destroyed a school on the property. The building that held the New Orleans Charter Middle School, and previously the St. John Vianney Preparatory School, had been torn down. He decided it was the perfect spot; then he encountered the city’s zoning code.
No matter how the property is zoned, a country club is a conditional use, requiring a long city approval process. Chaouat set out to change that with land-use attorney Mike Sherman.
Sherman had proposed the text amendment to allow country clubs, with specific restrictions, as a permitted, rather than conditional, use in multifamily residential districts. If it is a permitted use, it can take a streamlined route to city approval.
“The logic for that is that this tennis center is so much less intense than anything else that is already permitted in this district,” Sherman said, “so much less intense than apartment buildings, so much less intense than the volume of cars and people and traffic that would generated by an apartment building. This are eight tennis courts. There are only so many people you can put on a court at once.”
The City Planning Commission voted in August on classifying the property as multifamily residential, or HU-RM2, and the City Council agreed Thursday.
The CPC also had recommended country clubs as a conditional use in the amendment, since they are nonresidential. The CPC further recommended standards to make sure such facilities operate as intended. The City Council also agreed, while tightening the standards.
Chaouat, who had planned to open his center in early 2020, has appeared to be chafing under the delays. “As an entrepreneur, I cannot afford to take another six months,” he said at the CPC hearing three months ago. “I don’t have the time or the money for it.” He likely has a few more months to go before final approval.
Since then, he has held community meetings on the project and met multiple times with the neighbors and with District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso. “A lot of front-end work was done,” Giarrusso said at Thursday’s meeting. The comment cards for the project were all in favor, he said.
One speaker, however, was against the change. Michael Burnside said he opposed converting residential land to anything that is not residential. “When we do that,” he said, “we are reducing the amount of homes available.”
Provisos to the amendment added by the City Planning Commission were tightened by Giarrusso. Country clubs must be on a lot that is at least 50,000 square feet, and at least 75 percent of that land must be used for outdoor recreation.
The sale of alcohol is also restricted, with the bar area take up no more than 15 percent of the building and no more than 1,000 square feet. “That’s to ensure it does not become a de factor bar or restaurant as opposed to a recreational facility,” Giarrusso said.
Alcohol sales are also prohibited in the recreation areas, except on golf courses, and no packaged liquor can be sold.
The City Council approved the zoning change and the text amendment with country clubs as a conditional use. The final vote has not been scheduled.