The old Rite Aid property at 3401 St. Charles Ave., vacant since 2018, may gain new life. Developers plan to build a 115-unit apartment complex with 19,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
Neighborhood residents are abuzz about the planned development at St. Charles and Louisiana avenues, and reactions are split between excitement over the new development and concerns over its size.
The development will have a five-story building facing Louisiana and a three-story townhouse behind it, facing Delachaise Street. Developers will need a waiver from the Board of Zoning Adjustments to build higher than 45 feet, the maximum allowed in the area’s current zoning rules.
“The natural, immediate reaction is, ‘Oh, my God!’” said Donna Robertson, president of the Delachaise Neighborhood Association.
“The biggest concern is just the whole massive scale of the project, the height,” Robertson said. She has also heard from neighbors who are concerned about construction, especially those who already have to deal with ongoing construction at nearby Cohen College Prep High School.
On the other hand, she’s excited about the prospect of new retail coming in. She’d love to see some new restaurants or a coffee shop. There will also be 172 internal parking spaces.
“It’s hard not to find some positive in it, because it’s certainly better than what is there now,” she said. “It’s just such a drastic change, you almost have to absorb it for a little bit before you’re really comfortable with it.”
A thread about the development on the social media site Nextdoor attracted almost 300 comments and vigorous debate over the apartments. Some neighbors lauded the plan, saying it was “exciting” and “appealing architecturally.” Others bemoaned the lack of affordable housing in the complex.
“It will be better than the abandoned building that is there currently,” wrote one user, Chrissy Carmody. “I live a block from this site and look forward to the improvements.”
“I’m also a block away and disagree,” replied another user, Megan Wright. “Almost anything would be better than more overpriced apartments that will provide no benefit to those living nearby.”
In some ways, the site is coming back full circle to its historical roots. The five-story Ghisalberti Flats apartment building was built there in 1905. In later decades it was a K&B drugstore, then a Rite Aid after the national chain bought K&B.
Valerie Besthoff and Andrew Marcus, the daughter and grandson of K&B founder Sydney Besthoff, are now turning it back into apartments, with a façade inspired by the original Ghisalberti building.
“The developers are thrilled to bring this corner back to commerce but also back to being a living space for our community,” said Virginia Saussy, a representative of the leasing company, PMG Associates. Local firm MetroStudio will handle the architecture.
The designers have had three meetings with the Architectural Review Committee of the Historic District Landmarks Commission. One of the suggestions that they’ve incorporated has been to step back the fifth-floor penthouse on the Louisiana Avenue building, so that it will look like a four-story building from the street.
“We are proposing a design that will bring an attractive development to an essential corner of the city with two buildings of varying heights,” Saussy said.
Saussy said that the rent of the units is yet to be determined, but “we expect middle- to upper-level rental pricing.” She added that the units will be apartments, not condos.
Robertson said that overall, the project appears to have been thoughtfully designed.
“They’ve thought about the parking; they’ve thought about water,” she said. “I will give them credit for thinking of a lot of things that maybe other developers haven’t thought of.”
Reporter Sharon Lurye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.