Neighbors First for Bywater – Board Meeting, April 20, 2022

Held on Molly Henderson’s back porch. Present: Molly Henderson, Joe Brown, Tyler Harwood, Julie Jones, Brian Luckett, Anthony Eschmann. 

The board was joined by two guests – Devin De Wulf, who is heading up the Krewe of Red Beans “Beanlandia” project; and Costas, a near neighbor who is opposed to the project. Beanlandia is being planned as a cultural facility, and is seeking conditional use to sell alcohol and have live music, as well as a parking waiver.

The meeting started at 7:19 after a few late arrivals. After our guests were introduced Devin spoke about past zoning challenges the residents of Bywater have struggled with, and the resulting bitterness. Developers looking for profitable ventures may not always be entirely honest about what they plan to do. Devin emphasized this is not the case with Beanlandia. He said the plan is for Beanlandia to be a community center, and has wide community support. 

A cultural facility is an approved use by right under the property’s current zoning. If the conditional use is granted the plan would be to host smaller events five nights a week. Devin does not believe the music needs to be loud, as one of the purposes of the facility would be to remain appropriate for children. Consultants would be hired to advise on acoustic treatments. 

Alcohol permits are not granted for businesses within 300 feet of a playground unless they are non-profits, schools, or city run concession stands. Beanlandia is a non-profit, but in order to get the permit they need notarized approval from 75% of neighbors within 300 feet of the edges of the building. If the permit is not approved the facility will be BYOB, which is less desirable as there is no control over the types of alcohol being served or the quantity. Additionally it would be a loss of revenue, and they would be forced to allow private events (weddings, ect…) to make up for it. Devin explained that a near neighbor asked that the facility not host such events so they were removed from the original plans. Molly asked if, in the case the permit is granted, if he would be amenable to a proviso prohibiting private events, and Devin said he would. Devin also noted that the facility would not be open late even though it would mean more income if it was. 

Parking seems to be the trickiest problem. It is physically impossible for the site to provide enough parking. The property has a small lot that holds approximately ten spaces, but the law requires one space per 300 square feet, which would be somewhere around 54-57 spaces. Tyler asked about the Crescent Park lot one block away providing some relief, but Devin said he is not entitled to claim it as a solution. Brian asked if he had spoken with Turn Services, a shipping company nearby with a large parking lot. Devin said he had but it was not an option. 

Devin then showed comment cards from Tuesday’s NPP meeting, and said he had 25 in support and one opposing the project. He showed us a letter opposing the project and some fliers that had been distributed he said included inaccurate information. One flier expressed concern about Devin’s estimate of 235 visitors a day to Beanlandia, but he noted that Pizza Delicious currently has around 400 a day. 

Next we heard from Costas, who told us he felt the neighborhood was under attack from parties that want Bywater to become more of an entertainment and tourist destination. He said he initially liked the idea of Beanlandia, and supported it until he got the NPP packet. He explained that elected officials and the government are there to offer protection to residents, but that Devin wants to circumvent the rules. If Beanlandia gets the permits it seeks and something goes wrong, he said, neighbors wouldn’t be able to do anything. 

Costas gave us a handout with charts and graphs. There was a map showing the number of change of use permits (presumably alcohol) issued in our area since 2012, and it highlighted the number near the playground at Markey Park. There was also a graph illustrating a spike in STR permit applications. He said when he asked Devin what the occupancy of the building was that Devin guessed around 1000. Costas later researched the fire code and calculated the legal occupancy would be closer to 2100. There was a graph illustrating how Beanlandia could be bigger than House of Blues. He is distressed with the idea of 2100 people in a building so close to his home, and the parking problems that would bring. He also mentioned a potential increase in alcohol and drug consumption as well as litter at Markey Park. There was a brief discussion regarding the feasibility of that scenario.

Brian explained that he had taken time to study the regulations regarding the liquor license. If Beanlandia cannot get 75% of the near neighbors to approve the permit then it will not be considered and the group will then have to consider other options. If they are able to get 75% of near neighbors to approve then the proposal will then go to the CPC and City Council, at which point the near neighbors will be able to request provisos. Provisos can apply a number of enforceable conditions, such as operating hours and occupancy limits. The near neighbors would be in a strong position to negotiate at this point. If Beanlandia opts instead to forego the conditional use and operate a restaurant on the property, which is permitted with the current zoning, they will be allowed to serve alcohol and host live music by right. 

If Beanlandia is unable to get the conditional uses for live music approved they will still be allowed to host 12 special events per year. Special events can span three days, usually Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In this case, Devin said, there would likely be demand for larger events since they would be confined to shorter time periods. 

Brian expressed his displeasure that these zoning issues so often pit neighbors against neighbors. It would be easier if the rules were clear and more consistent.

Anthony called attention to the time and our guests were thanked for joining us. After they departed the board discussed our sympathies for both sides of the issue, but agreed that the law is working as it is written. If Beanlandia is able to get 75% approval from near neighbors we would be of more use in the next phases of the process. 

Julie asked the board members present if they wish to remain in their current positions. There were no objections, though Tyler requested occasional assistance with secretarial duties.

Molly then told us about a harrowing car jacking attempt nearby, and her discussions with neighbors who provided valuable security camera footage to the NOPD. Their conversation inspired an idea for “Porch Friendly Fridays”, which could be an opportunity for near neighbors to meet, exchange contact information, and take note of which neighbors have security cameras set up. Neighbors may be able to respond quicker than the police in emergencies. It was also noted this could be useful ahead of hurricane season. The event would most likely be monthly, and could be sponsored and promoted by NFB. We all agreed it sounded like a fine idea. 

The meeting ended at 8:27 p.m.

Submitted by Tyler Harwood, NFB secretary

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