Last-minute rezoning request stirs Lower Garden District speculation about old grocery store site

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The former Robert site in the 1300 block of Annunciation. (April 2014 image via Google maps)

The former Robert site in the 1300 block of Annunciation. (April 2014 image via Google maps)

As the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance approached approval by the City Council earlier this month, a last-minute effort to change the zoning around the former Robert grocery property on Annunciation Street has Lower Garden District residents wondering what the future holds for the property.

After City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell told the Coliseum Square Association that the Robert company was seeking a zoning change for the property on Annunciation (between Thalia and Melpomene), Cantrell hosted a meeting between the association and Marc Robert, said association member Julie Simpson.

“They told us they felt like their zoning downgraded their property value,” Simpson said.

The Robert company was seeking a mixed-use zoning that would have dramatically opened up the uses, Simpson said, but they didn’t outline any plans for the property.

“The Robert’s team basically had no idea what they wanted to do,” Simpson said. “They just wanted a really big increase in what they were allowed to do.”

Ultimately, the association and the Robert company agreed on a temporary compromise of a “Neighborhood Mixed-Use District” zoning as a placeholder, with additional allowances for the height and size of the buildings allowed, Simpson said. But the agreement also allowed Robert to revisit the agreement within 90 days, Simpson said, so she felt confident that the discussions are not yet over.

Wayne Troyer, an architect and association member, said that the agreement still allows for a fairly large, four-story development at the edge of what residents consider the division between the residential and commercial sections of the Lower Garden District.

“It could still be a substantially large project,” Troyer said.

The site — a Schwegmann’s before it was bought by Robert, and vacant since Hurricane Katrina — has long been a subject of interest for Lower Garden District residents. But even after speaking directly with the property owner (who did not return requests for comment for this article), residents said they still have little idea what is actually in store for the property.

At times, said Coliseum Square Association president Lou Volz, it seemed as though they were making requests that would allow a hotel on the site. In the negotiations, they also wanted to make sure the zoning included allowances for “mini warehouses,” Simpson noted.

What does seem off the table, however, is restoring the site to its former use.

“They’re pretty adamant about not using the existing structure, so that’s probably going to come down,” Simpson said.

“They don’t have any interest in putting a grocery store there,” Volz added.

Ultimately, it seemed as though the company may simply want the maximum flexibility to market the site to other developers, especially as the real-estate in the area continues to increase in value, Volz and Simpson said. Robert may not have a specific plan in mind at all.

“If he does know, he’s keeping it close to his vest,” Volz said.

6 thoughts on “Last-minute rezoning request stirs Lower Garden District speculation about old grocery store site

  1. How awful it would be to use that site for commerce. That’s the last thing the LGD needs. Good to see the government protecting its subjects from business.

    • No one in the neighborhood was against opening neighborhood business there. In fact people have been pleading for them to open something or sell it to someone who would. Don’t forget this was a grocery. It had been abandoned for 10 years. The neighborhood had high hopes for many years that Robert’s or Trader Joe’s or somebody would come back in. Up until this moment any number of regular businesses could have opened there or combinations of residential and commercial. Its surrounded on 3 sides by houses that have been redone by families working hard to make things great around there again even though Roberts has done anything but help. Just because you own a property doesn’t give you a right to put anything you want on it. The zoning being requested was FAR above anything that has ever been considered in an historic neighborhood. It would have allowed 100 ft heights and virtually any business whatsoever including but not limited to gas stations, fast food , drive throughs, shooting ranges, truck marshaling, bus stations, big box stores, cement production, open parking lots, shipping yards, construction yards. Even a 70+ story building built out to the size of an entire city block with no setbacks and no historic district approvals. The point is PaoliBulldog, just because you can make more money if you rezone your house so that it can be a bar and a pharmacy doesn’t mean you can or should be allowed to. Zoning can also protect neighborhoods and home owners.

  2. I wouldn’t object to a small group of stores in that area, like a small mini-mall. While a grocery would be welcome, there’s nothing historically interesting about that building as it is.

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