Small hotel planned for empty lot in Lower Garden District

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Plan for the lot at 1213 Magazine St., as provided in the NPP notice to neighbors.  (Verges Rome)

By Jesse Baum

Heirloom Properties, the owner of multiple short-term rental properties, is seeking to transform an empty Lower Garden District lot into a two-suite boutique hotel

The lot stands at 1213 Magazine St., between Thalia and Erato streets. Heirloom, its owner, runs 25-30 short-term rental properties, including one directly next door to the 1213 Magazine lot.

About a dozen people attended a neighborhood participation meeting Monday to hear about the plans. To move forward, the owners need a conditional-use zoning change to run a hotel within a historic mixed-use district.

If built, the hotel would stand two stories high, with landscaping and a small outside pool. The ground-level suite would be wheelchair accessible, and each suite would have 4-5 bedrooms, able to accommodate 2 guests each, bringing the maximum capacity of the potential hotel to around 20 guests. The guests would have access to valet parking in a nearby lot.

Like whole-home STRs, the suites would have full kitchens. However, unlike short-term rentals such as Airbnb, guests would pay a higher tax on their stays and the building itself will be subject to more stringent safety regulations, including having two points of egress and a sprinkler system.

The “hotel” designation also means that the property must include a lobby, a check-in desk and maid service for guests, according to Corey Brizzolara, a representative of Verges Rome, the architecture firm for the project.

Some residents expressed concerns about the project, with one saying that long-term rentals would be preferable on the site, noting the shortage of affordable housing in the area.

“Why did you come to my neighborhood to do this?” another resident asked.

STRs, particularly commercial STRs with multiple listings, are controversial in New Orleans. Studies, such as one conducted by a McGill University and the Economic Policy Institute have shown that STRs drive up rents for long-term residents.

Though the property itself would not be technically an STR, it would mean that the lot would be off the market for housing for New Orleanians, while benefiting an STR company. Due to the full-service nature of the suites, the building could be converted to traditional housing if the owners sold the structure.

Frank Cole, New Orleans resident and former member of the Historic District Landmarks Commission, noted that drainage could be an issue, as the lot is currently covered in grass but would have a large roofing area as well as bricking if the project gains approval.

“We have so few vacant lots left,” he says.

Brizzolara responded that permeable paving is a possibility for the site, as an alternative to the brickwork. However, the footprint of the structure itself would be more than 1,000 square feet.

Another resident, Polly Watts, raised concerns over the potential for pile-driving to damage buildings.

“It can do quite a bit of damage, and the neighborhood is a bunch of old homes,” she said. She noted that construction of a new condo building off St. Charles Avenue caused damage to a nearby business.

The next step for the project is to go before the City Planning Commission for a vote on the conditional use for the site, then, pending approval, the full City Council for a final vote. If the approval is granted, the owners are looking to start construction early next year, with a rough 12-month timeline for completion.

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