By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |
The Landrieu administration is considering a request to build affordable housing on a parcel of fallow city-owned land long expected to be part of the Lafitte Greenway in Mid-City.
The land in question is the largest contiguous piece of land within the footprint of the linear park, which will eventually span three miles between Treme and Lakeview along an abandoned railway. Even before June, when Mayor Landrieu bought the land and touted it as an important part of the greenway project, city residents had expected the parcel, formerly owned by the Louisiana Institute of Film and Technology (LIFT), to be redeveloped as part of the park. Specific plans for the site, whether it would be used for ball fields or other recreational activities, open space, or another undetermined use, were to be made through a public planning process not yet underway.
Recently, however, the real estate developer chosen to lead the mixed-income redevelopment of the Iberville public housing development approached the Landrieu administration with a request that the city set aside a portion of the LIFT parcel at St. Louis and North Galvez streets, for public housing units that, according to federal regulations, must be built near but not the Iberville site.
“The ball is in the city’s court now,” HRI Properties CEO Pres Kabacoff said Tuesday, adding that he thinks the site, with its proximity to Treme and of course, the greenway, would be “nice.”
Landrieu bought the land for $3.8 million in June. The mayor’s spokesman, Ryan Berni, said Wednesday that while the real estate was “bought to be used as part of the Lafitte Greenway,” he could not rule out the possibility that at least a portion of it may be used for the Iberville replacement units.
The request for the land is coming ahead of the public planning process because of a June 1 application deadline for a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood grant. The Iberville project is one of six finalists for a federal grant of up to $62 million, but to be competitive, HRI and its partner, McCormack Baron Salazar, must prove that the city is willing to contribute money, land or infrastructure to the project, and that they have secured real estate for the 600 off-site housing units that will be built in addition to the 635 on the Iberville site. Both obligations would be fulfilled by a donation of the vacant city-owned land.
“We are working with HANO and all the parties to make sure we can work through the details to create a competitive application,” Berni said.
Greenway advocates say the talks between Kabacoff and the city are premature, given that the city recently contracted with a planning firm, Design Workshop, to hold public meetings to decide the site’s future. “We invite anyone who is interested in sites on the greenway to join us in a public conversation,” said Bart Everson, president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.
No final decision would be made on the site’s use until the public planning process is complete, said Berni. “There is obviously a large citizen engagement process that still needs to happen,” he said.
The former LIFT site borders Faubourg Lafitte, the partially built mixed-income neighborhood on the site of the old Lafitte development. Before the city bought the film studio land in June, Providence Community Housing, the company redeveloping Lafitte, tried to purchase it. After encountering opposition from Mid-City community members who wanted to develop the site as part of the greenway, the non-profit housing company gave up on securing the site. “The folks were really more interested in having a linear park and not really excited about the concept of housing there,” Providence Director of Public Affairs Andreanecia Morris said. “We figured if people wanted housing, it would come out as a result of the community engagement, and it could be put on the table.”
In addition to the Lafitte Greenway site, Kabacoff is looking at some 20 other possible locations for the 600 off-site units planned as part of the Iberville redevelopment. He declined to specify the other sites.
“I’m negotiating with property owners,” he said. “I’m not really interested in talking about it.”