Council votes to ease parking problems linked to double-to-dorm conversions in university area

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This Hillary Street double went from 1,978 square feet to to 2,795 after a renovation by Amicus Properties. (Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office)

The City Council on Thursday approved two motions on parking and residential density in the University neighborhood. They are aimed at establishing an Interim Zoning District for the Uptown area near Tulane and Loyola with more stringent parking requirements than the rest of the city.

It’s an unusual move for a council that normally prioritizes the creation of housing, particularly affordable housing, over parking. But the Uptown area near Tulane and Loyola universities has an unusual problem, with investors buying up homes and converting them to high-end multi-unit rentals marketed to students.

“What’s occurring right now, particularly in the Maple neighborhood, is that doubles are being converted into dormitories,” said District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso at Thursday’s meeting. “So instead of having one or two families reside in a home, we have between eight and 10 college students. This trend is changing the complexion of the neighborhood.”

Property owners within the Interim Zoning District are now required to provide off-street parking for any increase in residential density. One of the motions creates the IZD, while another authorizes a public hearing and study that will “help ensure that any future amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (via an overlay) to address parking requirements are fully researched to properly balance the institutional, commercial and residential uses, and adequately address the needs of residents.”

The IZD is bounded by the lakeside of St. Charles Avenue, downtown side of South Carrollton Avenue, riverside of South Claiborne Avenue, and both sides of Audubon Street (excluding the portion on Tulane’s campus). Only new construction and conversions will be affected, Giarrusso told Uptown Messenger, and it takes effect immediately. If a developer adds bedrooms to a residence, off-street parking will need to be provided.

“We have spent ample time working with the neighborhood organization, listening to neighbors,” Giarrusso said at the meeting Thursday. “We wanted to examine all available remedies and make sure this is not an isolated incident. The way to slow this down is first with an IZD and then with a public study.”

This property at 1025 Lowerline St., purchased by Amicus in August, has been approved for nine units. (Orleans Pairsh Assessor’s Office)

Maple Area Residents Inc., a neighborhood association in the Carrollton area near the Maple Street corridor, has been documenting the doubles-to-dormitories trend for a while.

“What we’re seeing is mostly out-of-state developers coming in, buying properties that were shotgun doubles, which seems to be their preferred purchase, and intensifying them as much as possible without the need to get a variance,” Keith Hardie of MARI told the council on Thursday. “What they are doing is taking homes with two or four bedrooms and camelbacking them so that there’s eight.”

One such developer is Amicus Properties, which lists rental units in five Uptown properties on its website. It is based in New York and Connecticut, according to addresses listed with the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office and the Louisiana Secretary of State.

It purchased, for example, a double shotgun at 821 Hillary St. in November 2018, renovated the building and added an 800-square-foot camelback to create an eight-bedroom house that rents, according to MARI research, for $1,000 per bedroom. These properties are generally leased by the bedroom, with a shared common area, rather than by the apartment.

“This is not affordable housing,” Hardie said.

The Amicus representative for New Orleans declined the opportunity to comment or provide information for this story. The company’s website states its mission is to “provide students with comfortable, safe housing alternatives while preserving the integrity of local college towns.” It has an inventory of well-appointed furnished apartments in renovated historic properties.

“This may be providing housing for students, but it’s making it impossible for people who want to be long-term residents to find housing,” Hardie said of the conversions. Local families are being priced out of the neighborhood, he said, and the renovations are designed for a student lifestyle, not for families.

A shotgun single at 7631 Burthe St. was purchased in 2018 by local investors and demolished. In its place is a residence with multiple kitchens and entrances on each floor. (Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office)

The IZD is not preventing these conversions. It’s aimed at easing one of the more visible effects of the added density: a parking scarcity.

The parking difficulties are more than a mere inconvenience, Hardie said, noting that parking violations are rampant in the area. “Curbs get broken. Sidewalks get broken,” he said, explaining the problem before the meeting. “Front yards get paved over, and that leads to more water going into the gutter.”

By mandating off-street parking for increased density, the IZD would allow, and could even encourage, residential parking lots. Central City resident Michael Burnside spoke against the measures at the City Council hearing, opposing the idea of taking land that could be used for housing and parking cars on it. At least, he said, developers should build parking structures of at least two stories, for a more efficient use of the land.

“We worship the car at the expense of housing,” Burnside said. “We need to figure out a way to fight that.”

Before voting with the other council members to pass the motions, District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer expressed similar sentiments in explaining her yea vote. “I’m usually not in favor of creating parking requirements. We are working on turning odd-sized lots into smaller housing to create more affordable housing,” she said. “But this is a very unique situation due to the proximity of Tulane and Loyola.”

The motions passed unanimously.

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