By Emily Carmichael, Uptown Messenger
The owner of a Lower Garden District property, long used for offices, is seeking to rezone the building from residential to commercial.
RCI Hospitality Holdings, a Houston-based publicly traded adult entertainment company, purchased 1428 Terpsichore St. in April. It is seeking to rezone its newly acquired property as commercial, claiming it was mistakenly categorized as residential during the city’s zone restructuring in 2015.
During a Neighborhood Participation Project meeting on the change Thursday, Sept. 19, Zella May, a consultant acting on behalf of the owners, explained that, before 2015, the property was zoned as C1A commercial and has since been designated as part of a Historic Urban Two-Family Residential District (HU-RD2). RCI is applying is to re-designate the property as a Historic Urban Neighborhood Mixed Use (HUMU).
The property currently has a legal non-conforming status, allowing it to operate as a commercial property. Though the property is not in compliance with the rules and regulations of HU-RD2, it has legal permission to operate as such. May said the owner wants to change the zoning status from a non-conforming designation to one aligned with its use to bring the property into full compliance.
The legal non-conforming status comes with more restrictions on commercial operation than an HUMU designation. The freedom provided by an HUMU worried some residents.
Neighbors at the meeting, including representatives of the Lower Garden District Association, expressed concerns with this property’s potential to turn into a short-term rental. May responded that the building would have to be substantially renovated before it could be turned into short-term rental property, which the owners do not plan to do.
A representative of RCI who was also at the meeting said the company does not plan to create a short-term rental property. Rather, it plans to use part of the building for its own offices and rent the remaining spaces to commercial tenants.
May said the property has not had a kitchen or a shower since at the 1980s, indicating that no one has lived there for decades.
The building at 1428 Terpsichore has operated as an office space for years, city records show. Most recently, it was leased by CTA Architects Engineers.
According to Arlen Brunson, a previous City Planning Commission administrator who attended the meeting and worked for city in 2015, HUMU zones took the place of C1A during the 2015 restructuring.
“This lot … was included in all the C1A,” Brunson said. “It got changed to a residential district. I know why because I was involved in that whole change at City Planning. The consultants never went out and actually looked at any properties like they were paid to do.”
Brunson alleged the consultants viewed properties on Google Earth instead of visiting them in person. The facade of 1428 Terpsichore looks residential, he explained, so it was designated as such.
“And that’s happened all over the city,” Brunson said. “A lot of zoning changes in the past few years have been simply because an error was made when they changed the zoning because they never went out to look at the property to see what it really was.” Uptown Messenger has not independently verified Brunson’s claims.
Founded in 1983, RCI Hospitality Holdings, previously Rick’s Cabaret International, owns and operates strip clubs, nightclubs and adult websites.
Reporter Emily Carmichael can be reached at email@example.com.