Proposed subdivision of historic property causes controversy in Carrollton

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914 Dante St.

It’s rare that something as mundane as the subdivision of a residential lot gets much attention, but a proposal to sell and divide a historic property in the Carrollton area has led to protests from neighbors who want the land to be saved. 

The controversy concerns a lot on 914 Dante Street that holds a six-unit apartment building, plus a side yard with several mature, leafy trees. According to Susan Johnson of  the watchdog organization Town of Carrollton Watch, who has been researching the property, the lot was the site of a Union Army hospital during the Civil War.

That hospital was later destroyed, possibly in a fire. The current structure was once home to F.C. Zeller, the mayor of the town of Carrollton before it became part of New Orleans. 

Riverlake Properties, the property owner, has requested permission from the city to divide the lot into two. The plan is to sell the side yard portion to a young couple who want to build a house there. The couple, an architect and a doctor, are having a baby and would like to build a home for the child’s grandmother to live in, so the family can be closer together. 

Passions got heated and voices raised at a virtual neighborhood meeting on April 1 when Hooper and other partners in the real estate deal explained their proposal. Neighbors say that the plan will lead to the destruction of precious green space in the block and jeopardize a historic property. 

“We have been done wrong many times in the process of all the real estate development that has gone on and the city doesn’t seem to come down on our side often,” said Jill Stephens, a neighbor. “So if you sense bitterness and a little testiness and anxiety in the community, you’re going to hear it — because we have not won very many of these fights.”

Those opposed to the plan argue that the lot is already too small for the house and not up to city code, so it would make no sense to create two lots that were even smaller. 

The property is 9,060 square feet, when a lot for six-unit building would normally have to be at least 12,000 square feet. The subdivision would turn the lot into two parcels, one of which would be 3,600 square feet and the other 5,460.

via City Planning Commission

Detail from subdivision survey of 914 Dante St. performed Nov. 19, 2020, by Gilbert, Kelly and Couturie for Riverlake Properties

Since the lot would still be too small, Riverlake must apply for a variance from the city for a new parcel. 

“I’m really concerned more about the destruction of the 75-foot lot and the historical house that’s on it,” said Betty DiMarco, co-chair of the neighborhood group Carrollton United. 

“Subdividing that property will destroy that site — and that’s not OK,” Elaine Leyda, president of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood association, told Uptown Messenger.

“What would be lost? I don’t even know where to begin,” she said. “On that particular site there are mature trees, oak trees and magnolia trees, that provide shade and homes for wildlife and contribute to the aesthetic of the neighborhood.”

Neighbors also expressed concern over the potential for increased storm runoff and decreased drainage from the loss of permeable greenspace.

Brittany Bond, an anesthesiologist at Ochsner Medical Center who wants to build the new house for her mother, said she and her husband, architect Jared Watson, don’t want to destroy anything. 

“It’s not our intention to destroy the aesthetic of the neighborhood. Our intention, if it does get subdivided, for the 35-foot-wide lot would be to build a single-family house and try to preserve as much of the trees and stuff on the lot as we can,” she said at the April meeting. 

At that meeting, Joan Hooper of Riverlake Properties appeared exasperated at the opposition. She said that she had to sell the property and could not imagine finding a nicer family to move into the neighborhood. 

“It’s a very hard property to maintain. It needs a lot of work on it,” Hooper said. “It’s for sale, and there are two people interested in buying it. One is an architect of the highest caliber who would improve it to the maximum. This is the better opportunity for everybody.”

Real estate lawyer Lauren Griffin, of Crescent Title, also vouched for the couple, saying they wouldn’t want to harm the place that their own family was going to live in. 

“Brittany’s going to see you in the neighborhood. Her mom is going to see you in the neighborhood,” Griffin said. “They don’t have ill will. I think these are good people. I think they’re going to do good by you.”

Nevertheless, DiMarco said that the meeting did not allay her concerns about the proposed subdivision. 

“We were really struck that the city would even consider allowing them to subdivide a lot that’s not even standard for the size building on it now,” DiMarco told Uptown Messenger.

The next step is for the property to have a hearing in front of the Board of Zoning Adjustments. A date for this meeting has yet to be set. 

Julianna Padgett, another neighbor, ended the April meeting by imploring the owner of the property to reconsider what deeper significance that this property has to the community. 

“It’s a hard decision to make to give up that lovely, beautiful green lot,” she said. “It’s really hard and we just hope that you can understand that and what it means for our block and for this part of Carrollton.” 

Reporter Sharon Lurye can be reached at sharonrlurye@gmail.com.

 

9 thoughts on “Proposed subdivision of historic property causes controversy in Carrollton

  1. The story is very unclear. Where is the plat that shows what exists, what will be subdivided, and what portion will be sold?

    The side yard does not appear to be 75 ft wide………can we have more detail, please?

      • Thank you for the plat.

        But, “… it would make no sense to create two lots that were even smaller….”

        To me, It would make more sense subdividing into a 75 ft wide lot on Cambronne, where that “back” area can become a 75×38 lot at the corner of Freret and Cambronne. The treed, side yard can remain intact.

        Why hasn’t any builder thought of this?

        • Addendum: Is there an edit function? I didn’t mean to assume a corner lot at Freret/Cambronne. That is not indicated on the plat. Sorry. I saw no outbuildings on the (rear) Cambronne side of the apartment building and assumed it is approx 38-40 ft deep. Now we have a 75×38……………

  2. Why not just turn the 6 unit building into a single family home with a mother-in-law suite? Makes no sense to tear down a building that’s priced at $695K only to build two more homes. It’s evident that building would have to go….not enough room otherwise. The buyers must have money and believe that money talks. Seems a bit selfish to me.

  3. St Joan of Arc Church and school owns is cover most of the block. You can see it on PropertyViewer.

    Why not build on one of the vacant lots in the neighborhood *already* for sale? Why not buy one of the several houses *already* for sale in the neighborhood?

    Why subdivide at all? There is a main building and a side yard. Period.
    There is no way to “preserve” the mature trees if they build something there. But WHY destroy a storm-water absorbing park-like yard on a historic site at all?

    Look more closely at the real estate company.

    • Well said, Ms Leyda!

      There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to select that particular property………..something is afoot with this STRANGE deal, as other properties are readily available.

      Throwing money around to get what one wants, rather than NEEDS, is a cardinal sin………..

  4. I’m generally not for telling people that they can’t do something they want with their vacant land because the neighbors like to keep green space. The same neighbors will pave over their own front lawns for a driveway, while demanding you keep your yard for their enjoyment.

    BUT this property owner is asking for an allowance to subdivide an already improper property. That’s ridiculous. And let’s be honest – everyone know Riverlake is one of the worst slumlords around. They have doubtlessly not endeared themselves to their neighbors. Acting frustrated that they aren’t letting her sell her lot that is for sale when it is not legally appropriate to sell is ridiculous. Complaining about how much work it is to maintain is downright laughable. In other words, Riverlake does not like to put any money into property maintenance, and would like to dispose of the maintenance visual from the street, where code enforcement can catch them, and stick to ignoring the maintenance inside, where they dismiss all their legal obligations to their tenants away from prying eyes.

    The couple, while they may be lovely, sound equally disingenuous when they claim to want to preserve the trees as much as they can. We can all see the lot, with the row of trees right down the middle. They would clearly all have to come down. Claiming they will try their best in this meeting to get the sale, so that in the next meeting they can claim the trees all need to come down, is not a recipe to make your neighbors trust you.

    Where does this couple live, that this is the best option for the mother to live closer? It doesn’t say that the couple is buying the apartment building on the original lot. So where are they, that this lot, which requires zoning variances and a lot of razing, is the only option for them?

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