Subway on Magazine gets tentative City Council approval over neighbors’ opposition

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(image via city of New Orleans)

The Subway sandwich shop proposed for Magazine Street received tentative approval from the City Council on Thursday, but City Councilman Jay H. Banks promised to prevent the ordinance allowing it from being drafted until he can have more meetings between the developer and neighborhood groups who spoke in opposition.

After a long City Council meeting Thursday that spent hours on short-term rentals and other issues, Banks said told Uptown neighborhood leaders waiting to speak in opposition to the Subway that he planned to make a motion for its approval, but to hold the ordinance until more meetings could be held. The Subway’s request to open as a fast-food restaurant on Magazine Street had already been delayed by the previous City Council several times, and Thursday was the last Council meeting before the item’s deadline.

“Nothing’s going to happen to proceed with the Subway today, except to keep this legislation alive,” Banks said.

Representatives of several Magazine Street neighborhood groups — the Garden District, Lower Garden District, Boulingy and others — laid out a variety of reasons for their opposition to the restaurant, most decrying the harm that national fast-food restaurants cause to the special, local quality of Magazine Street. Betsy Stout likened fast-food restaurants on Magazine to the proliferation of T-shirt shops in the French Quarter.

“It erodes the New Orleans culture that is Magazine Street,” said Betsy Stout. “This is the domino effect that we don’t want to happen on Magazine.”

Some argued that a conditional-use should only be granted in order to fill a specific need, but that Subway didn’t fit the bill on Magazine. Each additional fast-food conditional use that is granted is subsequently used to justify the next request, they said.

“Allowing a fast-food restaurant sets a precedent for more of the same, which residents have made very clear that we do not want,” said Nell Carmichael of the Bouligny Improvement Association.

Banks questioned the opponents on the distinction between chain restaurants — which their opposition seemed to focus on — and fast-food restaurants, which the conditional-use actually confers the right to. The councilman asked one opponent if the he would be opposed to the two of them opening a “Jay and Damian’s sandwich shop” in the space. When the opponent acknowledged that would be agreeable, Banks said he concluded that the problem was with the national chain rather than the sandwich counter.

Council President Jason Williams chimed in with his opposition to national chains competing against local shops. Chains, he said, often have the “unfair advantage” of more capital to pay higher leases than locals, driving up rents for everyone.

Banks agreed that he, too, prefers local businesses — in most cases.

“Given the choice between going to Mahoney’s and going to Subway, I would likely go to Mahoney’s,” Banks said. “Unless I didn’t have a whole lot of money and couldn’t afford Mahoney’s. Then I would go to Subway.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Banks reiterated his promise to hold more meetings with the Subway developer and the neighbors. The motion passed 5-2, with both At-Large Council members, Jason Williams and Helena Moreno, voting in opposition.

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