In The News › Riverfront growth vision nearing OK

Jun 26, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Riverfront growth vision nearing OK

Riverfront growth vision nearing OK
Taller-buildings plan has fueled opposition
Monday, June 26, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

The greatest natural disaster in New Orleans history doesn’t seem to have changed many minds about riverfront development issues.

After a delay of nearly a year because of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans City Planning Commission this week is expected to approve a riverfront redevelopment plan that has stirred up opposition on several fronts, most notably from residents angered by a proposal to allow taller buildings on parts of the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater riverfront.

That proposal drew sharp criticism at a public hearing this month, as it did at several hearings before Katrina, but the Planning Commission staff, which proposed the change in height limits, has stuck to its guns.

If the commission approves the document, titled “Riverfront Vision 2005,” it will be sent on to the City Council. Council action is not required to make it official commission policy, but the council would have to approve any proposed zoning changes, such as higher height limits.

In most cases the document does not propose specific projects or suggest that the city intends to get into the development business itself. Instead, it is designed to “articulate the community’s vision for a 25-mile-long corridor, stretching along the river’s edge from parish line to parish line on both sides of the river, and encompassing the adjacent industrial areas and neighborhoods.”

It divides the riverfront into large geographic segments, highlighting issues and opportunities for development in particular neighborhoods in terms of land use and zoning, transportation, and access to the river. It then examines whether zoning rules should be changed to support the plan’s goals.

Although the document considers the city’s entire 25-mile frontage along both banks of the Mississippi River, it says the “wealth of redevelopment opportunities” on the east bank between Jackson Avenue and the Industrial Canal makes that stretch “the principal focus of the planning effort for the immediate future.”

That same stretch also is the focus of a recently concluded cooperative endeavor agreement between the city and the Port of New Orleans designed to clarify the ownership and future uses of riverfront property.

The deal agreed to by the Dock Board and the New Orleans Building Corp. board would allow parts of that stretch to be redeveloped for nonmaritime uses. Among other things, the agreement envisions “an uninterrupted and continuous linear green space or riverfront park” along the entire stretch, an amphitheater at the Louisa Street Wharf or another riverfront site, a hotel and expanded cruise ship terminal at the Julia Street Wharf, and a garage and cruise ship terminal at the Erato Street Wharf.

The Planning Commission document calls for completing such an agreement between the city and the port. The delay caused by Katrina meant the agreement was wrapped up before “Riverfront Vision” could be adopted.

The suggested change that has stirred up the most intense opposition at public hearings on the commission’s riverfront plan, including the one this month, is a proposal to offer 25-foot “bonuses” above the normal 50-foot height limit on new riverfront buildings along major streets in Marigny and Bywater as a way to “encourage exceptional and creative design, new residential uses, public open space, improved access and pedestrian amenities. This will also allow for increased density away from the neighborhood core.”

Many Marigny and Bywater residents have said the 50-foot height limit is important to maintaining their neighborhoods’ character.

Developers should get the bonus for buildings at the foot of Elysian Fields, Press Street and Poland Avenue if their projects “provide exceptional design, a combination of additional public space and amenities, contribute to public infrastructure improvements, and enhance . . . the pedestrian environment,” the plan says.

It says any developers seeking to exceed the 50-foot limit “should vary the massing of the building, combining low-rise portions on the residential side of the site to offset higher elements on the river side.”

But this month’s hearing showed that opposition to the proposal among Marigny residents remains strong.

Chris Costello, president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, said compromises that his group agreed to last year in talks with the planning staff were never incorporated into the plan, which he said is designed to aid developers and “puts the interests of the few above those of the many.”

“We are opposed to 75-foot-tall buildings, no matter how they are dressed up,” Costello said.

“Don’t put vertical buildings in horizontal neighborhoods,” said Eugene Cizek, a prominent local architect and planner who lives in Marigny,

Different criticism came from Frances Sewell, president of the English Turn Civic Improvement Association, who attacked plans for a Woodlands Trail and Park providing hiking, biking and recreational trails on the West Bank. The “Riverfront Vision” plan does not specifically endorse the Woodlands Trail project, though it does suggest planning for it should continue, with “participation from residents and property owners.”

Other critical comments came from Carrollton and Lower Garden District residents and developers, although it appeared their objections could be incorporated into the document.

The final draft of the riverfront plan places less emphasis than the original version on two ideas that drew criticism from the Bureau of Governmental Research: using a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, as a mechanism for financing riverfront redevelopment, and using the New Orleans Building Corp. to coordinate and manage such redevelopment.

The document now simply lists a TIF as one among several possible ways redevelopment could be financed. It says the Building Corp., a public benefit corporation created to find ways to enhance the revenue that the city gets from underused property, could take on a riverfront management role if it is restructured and given more staff and money. Or a new agency could be created to handle such functions, the plan says.

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Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3320.

Jun 26, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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