Neighbors First for Bywater – Board Meeting – May 15, 2019

Present: Julie Jones, John Andrews, Brian Luckett, Anthony Eschmann, Mark Gonzales, Steven Jacob, Tyler Harwood

The meeting started shortly after 7PM with an informal discussion regarding the HANO / ITEX project at 4100 Royal. John said he was interviewed by a reporter from The Advocate.

Mark and Tyler reported that the Just Press Pause post card writing event at Vaughan’s Bar Tuesday evening was a big success. Attendance was good, and hundreds of postcards were sent to City Hall. The event was organized by Cherry May, who NFB has hired to help with PR. We all agreed she is doing a fantastic job. Mark objects to our financial agreement with her. An agreement has already been signed allowing for a $3000 budget, but doesn’t specify her hourly rate. Mark believes it isn’t appropriate for a non-profit to sign an agreement without being more specific about rates. Steven and other board members countered that the cost to NFB is reasonable for what we have gotten so far, and Brian reiterated that she is doing great work.

Joe Brown obtained a letter HANO sent to HUD with information about the lease for the HANO/ITEX lot. In the letter, dated April 22, HANO is asking for approval to give ITEX a 99 year lease for $10,000 a year. ITEX is guaranteed to make a hefty profit at this price, and 99 years is a long time. The project is essentially a multimillion dollar gift to ITEX. HANO states in the letter that they plan to build “150 units, of which 60 will be market rate and 90 will be Project-Based Vouchers.” The letter also proposes “to dispose of all the vacant land at 710 Clouet (0.31 acres) via a negotiated sale at less than FMV to Clouet Gardens Inc, via a 15-year ground lease at $1 per year in rent.” A second letter was obtained that discusses the details of a loan from HANO to ITEX. The loan is for $4,250,000 with 1% interest for up to 40 years. The letter is dated April 5, and refers to “construction of 136 new construction and mixed-income rental units [including 34 project-based voucher units] to be located at the development to be known as the Bywater Scattered Sites…” All present agreed that the letters should be shared with City Council and the press. Mark will email the reporter from the Advocate on John’s behalf.

There was then a discussion regarding the letter recently released from Kristen Palmer. It’s unclear whether she approves the zoning change or not. In the letter she states that “all stakeholders, from the neighbors to HANO to advocates have agreed that 90 affordable units is the right number for this development.” Julie spoke with her on the phone and was told the scattered sites are included in this number. Palmer advocates for the HDLC in her letter, stating that she believes their guidelines should be followed. Elliot Perkins, the Executive Director of the HDLC, has stated that he is not pleased with the City Attorney’s assertion that the HDLC does not have jurisdiction over publicly owned property. NFB has filed an appeal to City Council regarding the issue, because while the land is HANO’s, the building would be the property of ITEX, which is a private corporation. If we are told we can’t appeal because there was no decision we can argue that the HDLC did indeed make a decision – the decision to do nothing. NFB may file a suit if it is necessary after the City Council meeting. It was noted that allowing HANO to abuse their power in this way has implications for the entire city, and that other agencies, such as Audubon Institute, could pull the same stunts.

Brian was informed of a similar zoning change case in Algiers Point. Prohibitive and stringent covenants were attached to the zoning change that ultimately made the project difficult for the developers. If this winds up being the strategy of City Council we will want to have suggestions ready, but in the meantime our focus remains on simply opposing the zoning change and advocating for affordable housing that would fit in to the surrounding neighborhood and better serve potential tenants.

Anthony received a notification regarding 4214 Dauphine being on the agenda for an ARC meeting. Little was known about the proposal.

Julie informed us that the ARC will be reviewing plans for an open air restaurant that is being proposed for 830 Piety at their May 21 meeting. The lot is currently zoned HMC-1. Brian suggested inviting someone from the City Planning Commission to speak about outdoor seating regulations at our next general meeting. Inviting someone from FMIA was also suggested, as they are asking for the current regulations to be modified. Tyler will bring food and the water left over from the last meeting.

An NPP is apparently scheduled soon for the hotel project being proposed at 3220 Chartres Street (the lot next to the “rusty rainbow”), but none of us had seen any information regarding it yet. It was also reported that realtors are marketing condos in The Saxony as Short Term Rental investment opportunities.

The meeting ended at 8:23.

Submitted by Tyler Harwood

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