Design questions dominate town hall with developers of possible Walgreens on Magazine

With developers insisting that Walgreens is the most likely tenant of an multi-million dollar proposed renovation of the old American Legion buildling on Magazine Street, many of the nearly 200 people at a Wednesday-night town hall on the project focused their questions on the planned design of its modern, glass-wall facade and large rear parking lot and drive-through. Many of the details of the nearly $6 million purchase and renovation had already been described by the leaders of three surrounding neighborhoods in a letter last month — with the exception of the new revelation that the store plans to sell beer and wine, in contrast to leaders’ previous expectation that no alcohol would be sold in the new Walgreens. Walgreens executives have yet to commit to the Magazine Street project (which would include closing their location on Tchoupitoulas), said developer Louis Stirling Properties, but appear to be the tenant most likely to be able to pay the building’s $600,000 lease. Stirling’s plan for the building includes removing its brick front completely and replacing it with a glass wall with steel columns — not unlike nearby Whole Foods — and many residents asked why such a modern design was chosen.

“We’re modern architects,” replied architect Mac Ball of New Orleans. “We’re designing buildings now, not in the 19th century.”

Neighborhood eyes possible problems with zoning for proposed Walgreens

Zoning on Magazine Street may not be as accommodating to a Walgreens pharmacy as was originally assumed, members of the adjacent neighborhood association said Tuesday evening as they began preliminary discussions of the proposed development. The old American Legion in the 5500 block of Magazine is zoned B-2, which allows for a variety of general retail uses, said Peggy Adams, an attorney on the board of the Audubon-Riverside Neighborhood Association. Although B-2 does not specifically prohibit drug stores, pharmacies with drive-through lanes are specifically mentioned in a separate section of the city zoning code, C-1A. And in some cases, Adams said, the fact that one type of development is specifically mentioned in a certain zoning has been used to preclude it in other zonings. Adams’ concerns about the building’s zoning come at a very preliminary point in the Walgreens discussion, as the three neighborhood associations are planning a public meeting with the developer, Stirling Properties, tentatively set for March 16.

Walgreens purchase, renovation of American Legion to cost $5.8 million, developer tells neighborhoods

The purchase and renovation of the old American Legion building on Magazine Street will cost nearly $6 million, requiring a tenant that can pay approximately $600,000 per year for the lease, the developer eying the property for a possible Walgreens told neighborhood leaders on Friday. Stirling Properties plans to replace the brick facade with a glass wall, preserve some of the American Legion features inside the building and add a drive-through to the 40-space parking lot in the rear. Although the commercial zoning would allow the store to stay open 24 hours and sell alcohol, current plans are to do neither, closing instead at 10 p.m., the representatives of three neighborhoods surrounding the site wrote in a letter to members Sunday evening. The neighborhood leaders recommended the developer call a meeting with the public to discuss the project, the letter says, but no date has been announced. Read the full letter below:
Dear ARNA, Hurtsville, and Upper Hurtsville neighbors,

You may know that a prospective developer of the Magazine Street American Legion site asked to meet with representatives of Hurstville, Upper Hurtsville, and ARNA to discuss a possible development on the site.

Limited changes planned for controversial Pilates studio on Magazine (live coverage)

A controversial Pilates studio will lower its Magazine Street facade and provide a handful of additional parking spaces in a nearby lot during peak hours, but those concessions were voluntary and all that upset neighbors can expect, city officials told a crowd of more than 100 people Monday evening. Romney Pilates, which caused a furor among neighbors in December when construction began on the third story of its new building across from Whole Foods, has secured state fire marshal approval to remove the front portion of that third story, dropping the front face to a height of about 36 feet in a camelback style, said District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry and Michael Sherman, the city’s director of intergovernmental relations. Further, Romney will supplement the five parking spaces on its lot with five more in the lot about a block away at 5530 Magazine from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m., the Pilates studio’s busiest hours. The studio’s owners, however, technically followed all the city’s procedures properly in their requests for size and parking variances, so the city has “no legal leg to stand on” to require any changes to the building’s design, Guidry said. To an audience of many neighbors concerned by either the influx of even more traffic to an area where parking is already difficult, or by a building design they say does not fit with the streetscape, Guidry said all she can really do is share in their frustration.

Tonight’s community meeting about Romney Pilates construction postponed

A meeting of Magazine Street-area neighbors concerned about the construction of a new Pilates studio has been postponed temporarily, an organizer said Wednesday morning. Romney Pilates, currently located on Magazine near Amelia, is planning to move farther uptown to a new site across from the Whole Foods supermarket. Construction has already begun, but the design of the new building has drawn the interest of several neighborhood groups. The announcement of a meeting about the Romney project originally set for today set off a flurry of email alerts and conversations Wednesday among members of the Audubon-Riverside, Hurstville and Upper Hurstville neighborhood associations, which together represent most of the households Jefferson Avenue and Audubon Park, from St. Charles Avenue to the river.

Renovating old NOCCA site proves too pricey for Lusher

Renovating the old New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts school into a third campus has proven too expensive an idea for Lusher Charter School amid the present uncertainty about public school funding, so school officials are restarting their search for a new Uptown location. The low-end estimate of the price to refurbish the old NOCCA buildling on Perrier Street is about $10 million, Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger told the school board in a Saturday morning meeting. With her recommendation that the board cease investigating that option, it is effectively of the table, she said afterward. Lusher has added two classes to its kindergarten that are temporarily being taught at the Jewish Community Center, but is searching for a permanent third campus in addition to its elementary school on Willow Street and high school on Freret. Meanwhile, the Orleans Parish School Board was planning to put the NOCCA site up for a second auction after a first round failed to draw a bid that met the state minimum, but Lusher became interested in the property and asked for time to study it.

Upper Hurstville lowers security fee as election nears

If voters in Upper Hurstville choose to renew the neighborhood’s private security patrols Tuesday, they’ll see a reduced fee on their property-tax bills next year. The fee had been $485 per parcel, but the security district’s board voted last week to reduce that amount to $425, said district chair Karen Duncan. The legislation enabling the 24-hour patrols expires after this year, however, so Upper Hurstville residents must first renew the district at the ballot Tuesday. “If the proposition doesn’t pass, of course, there’ll be no security fee and no security patrols,” Duncan said. The district had increased the fee to $485 to cover the increased costs of hiring private security after Hurricane Katrina, Duncan said.

Neighborhood eyes Lusher possibility with uncertainty

The possibility of Lusher Charter School expanding into the shuttered former Uptown site of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts brings mixed feelings in the surrounding neighborhood, and the balance of opinion may rest on whether local children could gain attendance privileges to the popular school. The Orleans Parish School Board had previously put the old NOCCA building up for auction, but it failed to draw a legally high-enough bid, Upper Hurstville Neighborhood Association president Karen Duncan told a crowd of more than 50 residents at a Sunday evening meeting. The law was then changed to allow the school board to sell it for less, but before a second auction could be held, Lusher Charter School expressed interest in expanding to the site and asked the school board for time to study the possibility, Duncan said. “A lot of people will be happy to see Lusher expanding” and to see the site returned to life, Duncan said, but immediate neighbors to the campus have concerns about traffic and the impact on property values on the area. One serious point of concern at the meeting was the fact that Upper Hurstville is well outside of Lusher’s attendance district, which is on the opposite side of St.

Try, try again: Upper Hurstville election may be moving to Nov. 2; October votes won’t be counted

If an eleventh-hour do-over makes it through state government by the end of this week, votes cast regarding the Upper Hurstville Security District in the Oct. 2 election will not be counted and the ballot question will be moved to Nov. 2 in slightly altered form. The security district — which uses a $485-per-parcel fee to provide around-the-clock security patrols from Magazine to Prytania, between Nashville Avenue and Audubon Park — was created by neighborhood voters in 2003 for a seven-year term, and thus needed renewal this year. Late last week, however, district chair Karen Duncan discovered that the ballot question as worded would effectively raise the fee to $650 — rather than merely giving the district board that option if the needed arose — and moving the election date emerged as the only solution.