when the height limit is 70 feet!
Click below to see the letter that VCPORA submitted to the City Planning Commission on this matter, and the joint document submitted by both VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens.
And please attend the City Planning Commission meeting on
Tuesday, December 14 at 1:30
in City Council chambers
to voice your support for protecting the height limit!
Dear City Planning Commissioners:
On behalf of the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates, I write to urge you to deny ZD 114/10, the application to waive the height limit and floor/area ratio (FAR) for the parcel at 1031 Canal Street.
In November, the VCPORA board met with the developer and his representatives to review the plans for the project. While we appreciate their desire to redevelop this parcel, our board is emphatically opposed to allowing these waivers, particularly an FAR waiver that is more than twice the allowable, and a height waver that is more than three times the allowable.
As is almost always the case, the developer here is citing economic need as the justification for these waivers. VCPORA strongly believes that planning decisions should never be driven by individual financial circumstances, whether such need truly exists or not. (And in this case, such a claim is especially dubious – based on information from the assessors’ website and the staff report, the owners paid $29.68 per square foot for the property.)
There are several reasons that VCPORA objects to this request for waivers.
First, we have staunchly defended the height limits for the French Quarter for decades, holding them to be among the most important protections for the tout ensemble. Adding a high-rise tower to the upper edge of the French Quarter does not enhance the neighborhood’s character, and in fact, contributes to its degradation. Given that the French Quarter is an internationally-recognized architectural treasure, not to mention the city’s biggest single tourist attraction, we would respectfully submit that its protection should be of paramount concern to city officials.
Second, in granting this and other waivers, the zoning is undermined, and de facto precedents are set which inevitably are cited by future applicants – and CPC staff – as the basis for their requests for exemptions. Furthermore, there is an inherent unfairness in such waivers, which fail to acknowledge the thousands of small and large developers who don’t ask for special treatment, do their due diligence before buying a property, acknowledge the zoning requirements, and work within them, never asking for special treatment.
Third, despite staff report comments to the contrary, this height waiver is in conflict with the Future Land Use Map, which shows this parcel as being part of an area for “mixed use and medium density.” The application is to more than double the permitted FAR of 6 and allow an FAR of 14. For reference, an FAR of 14 is permitted only in the CB-1 zoning district, which is the main office core along Poydras Street. There is no question that an FAR of 14 is high, not medium, density. And since zoning changes in conflict with the Future Land Use Map are not permitted, this application should be rejected on these grounds alone.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to deny this application is that it goes against the very premise on which the Master Plan has been built: that everyone would follow the same rules, and that when those rules were changed, the changes would apply to all parcels within the district or zoning category. In fact, this was the main impetus for the creation of a Master Plan. Residents, businesses and developers all were frustrated by a lack of clarify, fairness, and predictability in the city’s land use process, and so thousands of citizens have participated in the years-long effort to develop the Master Plan with the force of law, a plan that has now been approved by the City Council. The result is supposed to put an end to piecemeal zoning changes that have eroded our zoning code as well as confidence in the system itself. By voting to deny this application, you’ll be sending a message of support for the Master Plan.
VCPORA recognizes that the appropriate redevelopment of this parcel would be in the best interests of the neighborhood, and we encourage the applicant to do what untold numbers of others have done: find a solution that conforms to the zoning. We stand ready to help.
President, Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates
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Critique of CPC Staff Report Regarding 1031 Canal Street
The staff report for ZD 114/10 1031 Canal Street contains various errors of fact and interpretation that call into question its conclusions.
General and Summary
- The staff report focuses almost entirely on high-rise structures supporting a conclusion favoring the applicant. The staff report fails to note that the vast preponderance of the surrounding buildings on Canal Street fall within the existing zoning envelope.
- The proposed project is not consistent with the Master Plan. In particular, the proposed height waiver is in conflict with the Future Land Use Map, which shows this parcel as being part of an area for “mixed use and medium density.” The application proposes to more than double the permitted FAR of 6 to allow an FAR of 14. Because a FAR of 14 is permitted only in the CB-1 zoning district, which is the main office core along Poydras Street, there is little question that a FAR of 14 is high, not medium, density, and thus not allowed because ordinance prohibits zoning changes in conflict with the Future Land Use Map.
- The staff report ignores long-standing plans, supported by favorable tax treatment and other signs of city government favor, to create a theater district with the Saenger Theater as the centerpiece. This application should also be considered in this context, along with its visual and aesthetic impact on the Saenger Theater and an eventual theater district.
- Neither financial hardship nor financial gain provide a legitimate basis for planning and zoning decisions, but it seems that potential claims of financial hardship would be particularly misplaced in this application: the developers paid $3, 609, 375 for the property, using the data in the staff analysis, this comes to $29.68 per square foot. In any case, the developers bought the property knowing the zoning limitations.
· Distances from the subject property to several of the zoning documents referred to on pages 3 and 4 are understated and thus appear closer to the subject property than in actuality.
- The reference to Zoning Docket 61/06 note fails to note that a second attempt to receive City Council approval was unsuccessful.
- Despite a general failure to acknowledge the prevailing character of the district, the staff acknowledges (p. 5, para 1) that the current “structure correlates and contributes to the overall character of the block.”
- The staff fails to explain the rationale for using the Ritz Carlton Hotel, a building that pre-dates the height limit legislation, to justify this request for spot zoning (p. 5). More appropriate would be emphasizing the non-conforming nature of the application with existing buildings; most of those within three adjacent blocks of Canal from Basin to Dauphine range from in height from 4 to 6 stories. The sole exception is the Ritz Carlton Hotel, which rises to 194 ft (14 stories).
- Despite the assertion (p. 6) that “The planning commission staff has carefully considered the existing building heights in the surrounding area. … the downriver side of Canal St has several developments of similar height and density …, ” the staff’s ignores both facts and context:
1. Ritz-Carlton – predates height limit
2. Marriott Hotel – the catalyst for the height limit legislation
3. Sheraton Hotel – not on downriver side of Canal St.
4. Tidewater Building – outside of the Canal Street Zoning District
5. 1501 Canal — outside of the Canal Street Zoning District
6. Grand Palace Hotel — outside of the Canal Street Zoning District
· The staff conclusion that “the existing development standards do not appear to adequately serve their stated purposes and their re-evaluation is long overdue” (p. 7, para 1) is not supported by stated policy, which will be set by the Master Plan and ordinance, not by subjective staff opinion. This is acknowledged in CPC documents regarding the Master Plan:
“ 2. What about the UNOP plans, neighborhood plans and other plans that New Orleanians have worked on during the last three years? Are they going to be superseded by the Master Plan/CZO project?
No – they will not be superseded; rather they will be incorporated. The recovery plans are focused on the rebuilding process after Katrina, but they also contain many valuable ideas for the future. These plans will be the foundation of the Master Plan and new CZO. The first task of the planning team is to review all the UNOP and other plans and make sure that this Master Plan builds on all the work that has already been done. This plan will take all that work, add new policy and strategic approaches, and put it all together for a citywide plan with a long term perspective. The Master Plan focuses especially on providing long term guidance to city decision makers – elected officials, appointed officials, city staff – and providing a framework for them to work in partnership with community leaders from neighborhoods, the business sector, and nonprofit organizations.
- Staff again (p. 7, para 3) mentions the Ritz-Carlton as justification and ignores the predominance of buildings that do fit within the existing zoning envelope.
- Staff notes (p. 7, last bullet) that the CBD HDLC must also review but fails to note that the CBD HDLC criteria clearly require evaluating “Does the building visually appear to overwhelm its neighbors.” A building three times the existing height limit and far taller than most of its immediate neighbors would clearly “overwhelm.”
- The discussion (p. 8, para 1) on granting a waiver of required set backs fails to discuss the precedent that, if granted to adjacent property owners, would result in a wall separating the French Quarter from Canal Street and not a transition zone from the high-rise CBD to the low-rise, historic French Quarter.
- Staff notes (p. 8) that this application would more than double the FAR without evaluating the precedent it would create.
- The staff (correctly) expects the project would provoke a “substantial increase” in traffic but inexplicably calls for a complete traffic impact analysis (p. 10) only after the CPC makes a decision. Traffic is an important consideration and should be considered at the same time as other factors affecting a decision.
- Supporting documents submitted by the applicant omit a massing study. The “shading study” (p. 13, para 3) is not adequate. Scale is a primary impact and should have been included along with traffic analysis. A massing study would certainly show that the predominant use of the area is within the existing zoning envelope.
- The staff correctly acknowledges that shading is a primary impact; however, the drawing titled “Summer Solstice, June 21 at 12 am (sic – shading at midnight?)” (p. 13, para 3 and 4) is inadequate. The analysis should include industry standard shadow studies showing shading a various times throughout the day.
- The staff does not take account of the impact of the proposed project on adjacent surface parking. The Master Plan emphasizes the conversion of surface parking lots into compatible mixed uses; the project would inhibit the development of adjacent properties through shading and light deprivation.
- The staff statement (p. 14, para 2) that “the proposal is neither supported by or in conflict with the Master Plan” is incorrect. UNOP and the Master Plan (which by CPC’s own statement was incorporated into the Master Plan) clearly addresses new construction within Historic Districts: “Development character: the scale of new development will vary depending on location within the CBD and will be determined by appropriate height and massing, particularly near Historic Districts.”