Neighbors First for Bywater – General Meeting – December 4, 2019

President Julie Jones called the meeting to order and gave a brief summary of planned speakers for the evening.

Julie then introduced Andrew Palumbo, the new (since August) Assistant Commander of NOPD’s 5th district. He’s been with the NOPD 21 years. Violent crime statistics for the 5th district are down. Aggravated assault is down 21%, Aggravated Battery down 18%, Home Robbery down 43%, Homicide down 57% (may go up due to a recent spike – 7 in the last week), shootings down 7%, simple robberies down 15%. There were 33 homicides last year, and only 19 so far this year. For the entire city auto burglary is up 53%, and there is a 39% increase in shoplifting. Commander Palumbo feels that communication is good between all the officers in the 5th District and they have had more success with solving cases than in the past.

Julie asked about a body that was found recently near Press St and Royal St. Commander Palumbo said it was currently an “unclassified death”, and an investigation is underway. There doesn’t seem to be any foul play but they need to be sure. Another member praised Commander Palumbo and his fellow officers for a notable decrease in drug related crime along St. Claude Ave. The Commander credited some of his fellow officers for their good work and efforts. The Commander then explained some recent changes in specific titles for NOPD officers, and he was thanked and applauded.

Andrew Sullivan from Councilmember Palmer’s office was then brought up to discuss ideas for business development along St. Claude Avenue. Mr. Sullivan said that the staff does not have a complete vision for the corridor yet, but went on to explain how the backyard ordinance and the new ABO ordinance have helped them recognize a need to develop ways to interface with business owners more, and improve communication between businesses and residents. Renovation of the bridge over the Industrial Canal seems inevitable, and will present a significant challenge to businesses in the area, but could also provide an opportunity to get organized. It’s difficult when the staff is relegated to the “peacekeeping” role when it comes to neighborhood issues. All the neighborhood groups and business groups need to be able to come together for coherent and productive conversations about what the future of the area should be.

John Andrews asked if the bridge over the industrial canal couldn’t be restored instead of replaced. Perhaps that wouldn’t take as long, and may even be cheaper. Mr. Sullivan said the port would likely support the idea if it was indeed cheaper or faster. Brian Luckett suggested considering traffic calming and landscaping improvements along the Avenue. Mr. Sullivan explained that St. Claude is a state highway, but there has been a discussion of the city taking it back over, and the state would possibly provide funding for maintenance. This would be an opportunity for improvements. The possible bridge closure would be a good time to pitch the change. Incidentally, he mentioned that the port wants to disentangle the bridge from consideration of the lock. Another member asked if there has been any discussion of stormwater management. It’s difficult for businesses to thrive if they flood. Mr. Sullivan said he was not aware of any plans, but that he would reach out to someone from the Regional Watershed Initiative to be sure the City is connecting with them. Mr. Sullivan was thanked for his time. We are always grateful when he is able to speak with us.

Julie then distributed handouts outlining the multiple real estate developments in Bywater. She then invited Joe Jaeger from MCC Group to give a brief update on the plans for a hotel at Holy Angels and the continuing efforts to redevelop the old NSA property. Mr. Jaeger said MCC is meeting with HUD regarding the NSA, hoping to get their funding approved for the building closest to Poland Ave. If so they could begin construction within a year. They met with a possible tenant for the back building. If they follow through they would have approval for financing, but it “may be too good to be true”. They city still has a full floor reserved for their use, whatever that may be. Mr. Jaeger then mentioned information that he believed was incorrect in the handout regarding the Holy Angels hotel project, specifically parking requirements and language regarding AirBnB and the potential STR business model. Running a hotel more like an STR is more cost effective, he said, and they can reduce their payroll 85% to better compete with existing STRs. Their plan is for a sort of hybrid, where guests can choose whether or not to pay for traditional hotel services like housekeeping and room service.

John Andrews addressed the plans for the hotel at 500 Piety (river side of Chartres, next to “the rusty rainbow”), and issues NFB has with their plan to lease parking from the French Market Corporation instead of providing parking on site. He stressed that leasing by definition is not permanent, so there could be serious issues later if they lose access to the lot. John then explained that when the CZO was rewritten zoning was supposed to have force of law. One of the things we were told is that this would reduce the number of variances and conditional uses developers use to get around the base zoning of properties they plan to develop. According to the CZO there are six requirements developers are required to meet to get a conditional use. The second requirement in the list is that “the proposed use is consistent with the general purpose and intent of the applicable zoning district”. HMC-2, which is what the current hotel proposals we were discussing are, is meant to be a “neighborhood friendly” commercial zoning for businesses of 10,000 square feet or less. The fourth condition states “the proposed use is compatible with and preserves the character and integrity of adjacent development and neighborhoods … includes improvements or modifications either on-site or within the public right of way to mitigate development related adverse impacts,” such as street parking, height, and bulk. John argues that these requirements are not necessarily being met for many of the recent conditional uses the CPC has approved for projects in Bywater, and we are certainly not seeing a reduction in these requests.

John then told the group that the developers of the “Arrive Hotel” (4019 Chartres – across from the HANO lot) have secured their permits and will likely begin work soon. Brian Luckett was then brought up to give an update on the proposed HANO / ITEX development. Thanks to the efforts of Councilmember Palmer and her staff the project was designated as a “planned development,” so near neighbors have had the opportunity to stay involved as the development continues to be planned. NFB submitted a list of potential provisos, and some look like they will be adopted, namely ones that would require developers to follow through on specific improvements to the design that they said they would. These would result in limiting the structure to two stories along France and Royal St and making improvements to traffic flow in and out of the property. The lot is currently undergoing the Section 106 process, which insures the development complies with the National Historic Preservation Act to “avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse impacts to the historic district” in order to receive federal funding. This would include environmental studies as well, such as flood water drainage, though they haven’t gotten that far yet.

Julie then addressed the triple lease that developers have secured for 830 Piety / 3214 Burgundy, and the proposal for a bar/restaurant that pretends to fall just short of the 10,000 square foot conditional use requirement, but which would, as the current plans make clear, actually be much larger. A sushi restaurant planned for 3214 Burgundy appears to be well underway, which could theoretically be connected to the other business as a back door opens into it. It is not large enough to meet requirements needed to obtain a liquor license, though they have applied for one anyway. Opinions regarding the permit can be directed to Azi Nikzad, Near neighbors have multiple concerns regarding the project as a whole.

The meeting was then adjourned, and attendees were urged to help finish the pizza.

Submitted by Tyler Harwood, secretary

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