FRENCH QUARTER LAND USE MATTERS
1236 N. Rampart/”The Monastery” and
121 Royal Street height limit
This week, two city commissions will be making decisions that will affect the French Quarter for decades to come. Please read below for details on a request to allow the conversion of a church into a reception facility in the mostly-residential lower Quarter, and a request to change the zoning of a parcel on Royal to increase the height limit from 70′ to 120′.
We encourage you to attend these meetings and/or to send in public comment to make your voices heard.
The church/reception facility matter is near the end of the BZA agenda, so it’s likely that they will come up well after the meetings begin. There is wifi in City Hall, so it’s easy to work while you wait. If you would like to be receive an email or text when the matters are about 30 minutes away, please email VCPORA with that request, and we will put you on our notification list for that day.
The 121 Royal matter is second on the agenda, so we expect that to come up close to the start of the meeting.
Also note that, even if you do not wish to speak, your presence will make a difference. Plus, you can always cede your speaking time to someone else.
Public turnout matters – hope to see you at one or both of these meetings!
Board of Zoning Adjustments
Monday, December 11 at 10:30 a.m.
City Hall – Council Chambers
1236 N. Rampart – “The Monastery”
At Monday’s meeting of the Board of Zoning Adjustments, attorney Justin Schmidt, representing owner Sidney Torres/The Rampart Church, LLC, will be appealing the decision of the Director of the Department of Safety and Permits. That decision, in a nutshell, says that the site cannot be used as a reception facility. VCPORA fully supports this decision. We encourage you to attend the meeting to advocate for the protection of the French Quarter zoning, and of this neighborhood from incompatible and illegal uses.
The site is the former Center for Jesus the Lord, which had been owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and used as a church. It was sold to the current owner in February of 2016.
The BZA will be deciding whether the Safety and Permit decision is in line with what the zoning code allows. The Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance does not permit reception facilities in either of the two zones occupied by property at 1236 N. Rampart: Vieux Carré Commercial – 2, and Vieux Carré Residential – 1.
Despite this fact, and despite having received letters from Safety and Permits of the zoning violation, the site has been rented out on numerous occasions for corporate events, weddings, debutante parties, and even “The Blood Lust Ball” in October.
“The Monastery” advertises itself as being able to accommodate 1500 people (see ad from Gambit Weekly above). It’s been rented repeatedly for large events that overwhelm this fragile, densely-built, mixed-use, historic neighborhood. Streets have been blocked by delivery vehicles, taxis, and buses. Sidewalks have been obstructed by trucks and large generators. Neighbors have been awakened or kept awake by late-night outdoor crowds; even after the parties end, crews come in to dismantle tents, tables, etc. often starting the clean-up at 3 am.
(L) Barracks Street completely blocked and (R) trailer-sized generator parked on sidewalk to set up for an event at 1236 N. Rampart
The reason that new reception facilities are not permitted in these Vieux Carré zones is simple. They are intense uses, often drawing large crowds all at once; creating parking, trash, sound, and associated issues for a neighborhood that cannot handle them. In short, reception facilities are incompatible with our nearly 300 year old, mixed-use area. The photos above, and the experiences of nearby neighbors, amply demonstrate that.
Many of you participated in the years-long public process to create our Master Plan and revamp our Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. The rules that we have established – as a community – should be followed. And when they are not, the city should enforce them. That is what is happening here, and we stand with the city in asking the BZA to uphold this decision.
City Planning Commission
Tuesday, December 12 at 1:30 p.m.
City Hall – Council Chambers
121 Royal Street
On the table is a request by developer and hotelier Joe Jaeger for a text amendment to allow the construction of a 120′ hotel tower on a parcel where the existing height limit is 70′. While VCPORA, and many others, would welcome the redevelopment of the building and investment on this block, the request is cause for concern for several reasons:
- the precedent that such a change of the rules would set, and the virtually-inevitable use of that change as justification for height waivers on other sites
- the desire to avoid “spot zoning,” which undermines the predictability of, and therefore faith in, land use regulations
- the traffic impact of a building of that size, both during the 18 months of construction and the hotel operations – in an area that already sees tremendous traffic congestion
- although the proposal is based on the building becoming a hotel, there are other potential uses – residential, commercial, mixed-use – that could make financial sense within the existing land use regulations, as most other renovations in the French Quarter have done
For those reasons, VCPORA is opposed to the request.
NOTE: the address may sound familiar: 121 Royal Street is currently owned by developer Angelo Farrell. In 2015, Mr. Farrell received City Council approval for a 190′ tower in 2015, despite clear Master Plan violations. VCPORA, French Quarter Citizens, Louisiana Landmarks Society, and the Preservation Resource Center filed suit to protect the Master Plan. The case is pending.