Land Use

Planners OK erasure of Mid-City street grid to create gigantic med-center 'super block'

By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

Disappointing preservationists, the New Orleans Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended further collapsing a Mid-City neighborhood’s traditional street grid to create a giant “super block” for the long-stalled LSU medical complex that is to replace Charity Hospital.

The 10-block tract stands beside a 12-block area already stripped of its street-grid to create the planned Veteran’s Administration hospital. LSU is eyeing another six-block tract for the same treatment, a move that would turn a former Mid-City residential district of 28 blocks into a giant suburban-style campus.

Armed with a power-point presentation, Jerry Jones, the Jindal administration’s assistant commissioner of administration, made the case for the street revocations.

He pooh-poohed a $400 million shortfall in hospital funding for the medical complex, saying there is enough money in hand to start construction “immediately.”

Concerns about that shortfall have been stoked recently by Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in a move that, if nothing else, could add to the overall pricetag by scotching federal guarantees on financing.

Saying the project “threatens to saddle state taxpayers for years to come,” Vitter seeks rehabilitation of the nearby Charity Hospital, a stance shared by several of those who were present for Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting in the City Council chamber.

Critics of the “super block” approach have also warned that erasing the street grid complicates the handling of surface traffic that would be expected if the portion of Interstate 10 elevated above Claiborne Avenue is dismantled, a long-standing dream of many preservationists.

Detailing plans for the new construction, Jones said additional “green space” within the medical complex’s footprint reflects Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s request to reduce surface parking, a wasteful use of land.

The green spaces may be temporary, however. They are targeted for development if future expansion of the hospitals becomes warranted, according to planning blueprints.

Another issue raised at the meeting was the relocation of high-tension lines, which now bisect the site. Jones wants them moved to a perimeter location.

Brad Vogel of the National Trust questioned the wisdom of allowing the street revocations without a solid fiscal plan and suggested that the commission “demand better.”

In a small concession to preservationists, the staff recommendations accepted by the Planning Commission on Tuesday include moving, rather than demolishing, two vintage structures within the complex’s footprint, a residence and the abandoned McDonogh 11 schoolhouse.

The issue now makes its way to the City Council for final approval.

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