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.