Dear Neighbors and friends,
A lot has been written about 1031 Canal Street, at the corner with North Rampart.  VCPORA would like to share with you why this issue should be of interest to all of us who love New Orleans.
Isn’t redevelopment of that corner good?  OF COURSE!  VCPORA wholeheartedly supports redevelopment of that parcel, as I’m sure you do!
So, doesn’t that mean that we have to accept this proposal?
  As a community, we can do much better.  With the reopening of the Saenger and Joy Theaters, the coming Rampart Streetcar, and the redevelopment of the Iberville Housing Development, the only thing that might stop that corner from redeveloping is, frankly, greed.  That area is so prime for development, it’s hard to believe that someone will not develop it.
Fairness – and the Master Plan – dictate that the rules should be followed.  As a community, New Orleans citizens voted to change the Master Plan because we wanted to stop the project-specific “spot zoning.”  Why would should this developer be given a pass to good public policy?
Is that corner part of the French Quarter?
  The boundaries of the National (note, not city) Historic Landmark district go to the center of Canal Street – and that designation is the most important that this country can bestow on a site.  (Other National Historic Landmarks include the Brooklyn Bridge, the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, and the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.)
What’s wrong with tall and dense buildings?  The important thing is context.  Virtually all respected urban planners agree that the low rise of the old French Quarter should gradually slope up in height and density as you go farther away from the French Quarter.  That’s why unlimited height is allowed on Poydras Street, not Canal.  Planners urge that there NOT be a cliff of non-historic high rise buildings at the edge of the Quarter.  Transition matters.
Can’t we just grant an exception here?  Why do the rules apply to some and not to others?  Fairness matters. When the public voted for the city charter change for the Master Plan, they said, “Stop the ‘spot zoning.’  Stop changing the rules for one developer at a time.”  That’s exactly what the current 1031 Canal Street proposal would do.  It’s not fair to others who do play by the rules, and it is blatant disregard for the Master Plan. This would be a terrible precedent.  It’s the “old way” of city government.  We are hopeful that our current leaders recognize that planning = fairness = progress.
Why turn down an investment like this?  Experts agree that in the long run, these kinds of exceptions are harmful to the real estate market because they encourage speculation, which can lead to vacancies and blight.  But don’t take our word for it – listen to David Dixon of Goody Clancy, the nationally respected planning firm who headed the Master Planning process for our city:  When in New Orleans, he explained that when a city is well known for giving massive variances to the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance, this actually pushes up the value of the properties in those areas, which then pushes up the cost of buying these properties, which then pushes up the developers’ demands (like height and mass) needed to “make the numbers work.”
He continued, if you have a city system in which the rules are known in advance, and everyone plays by the same rules, not only is it more fair, the market finds its own balance and you’ll find MORE projects being developed.  In other words, this “greed temptation”, if you’ll excuse our phrase, actually leads to lack of development!
Why should 1031 Canal matter to you?  This is the first major challenge to the Master Plan since its adoption.  Let’s continue the progress made by this city since Katrina.  Let’s not go back to the old way of doing business here.  I hope you’ll agree with me, we can do better, and we must do better.

Carol Allen
Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates, Inc.
July 24, 2011