By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

Many, varied – and sometimes imaginative — are the arguments raised on behalf of zoning variances sought from the City Planning Commission.

Konbini, in the 2100 block of S. Carrollton, will require a zoning variance to reopen.

There’s the economic development argument: i.e. Let me put 200 tax-paying self-storage units in my front yard or New Orleans will never again be able to balance its budget.

There’s the equity argument: our block is the only one in the French Quarter  without an (illegal) bed and breakfast.

Then there’s the Wilhelm Schnitzel Fallacy.

Or is there?

The Schnitzel Fallacy was invoked by Carrollton resident Josh Stover at Tuesday’s meeting of the City Planning Commission – just one moment in a spirited defense of the city’s need to rezone a residential property in the 2100 block of South Carrolton Avenue, across from the Stuart Hall School.

Stover characterized the property as “vacant” and “blighted,” notwithstanding the fact that he lives upstairs and for a very brief interval earlier this year was operating the Konbini Tea Shoppe on the ground floor.

A very brief interval: Stover, a waiter at Hana, the Japanese restaurant in Riverbend, opened the tea house on Monday, March 28, only to be shut down by Safety & Permits at noon on March 29, fewer than 36 hours later.

If he can get the zoning changed, Stover’s adjusted plan calls for running a Japanese grocery store as well as a coffee shop in the building, which is owned by his boss at Hana’s.  This entrepreneurial vision has its Facebook fans, but has not been met with smiles by neighborhood groups.

Curmudgeons, in Stover’s view, they oppose his plans not because they have anything against coffee – PJ’s coffee shop founder Phyllis Jordan stood up at the meeting to speak against Stover’s plan – but, typically, because they see spot zoning as a slippery slope.

You allow one variance and the next thing you know, everyone wants one.

That’s the thinking Stover tagged as the Wilhelm Schnitzel Fallacy, a reference esoteric enough to snap Planning Commission members out of their mid-afternoon reverie and start some meeting goers googling on their PDA’s.

To little avail. While the “content-free” Uncyclopedia contains a satirical reference to Wilhelm Schnitzel in a long burst of frat house humor involving Kaiser Wilhelm, the Fallacy goes unexplained.

Clearly, more serious detective work was in order.

Reached by phone, Stover offered no apologies and at least a partial explanation of Schnitzel’s Fallacy:

“I come from comedy and I wanted to make the point, so I just came up with an absurd name,” he said.

And the point, exactly? The fallacy? That spot zoning doesn’t have to open the door on a million similar requests, Stover explained.

In a less philosophical mode, during testimony before the Planners, Stover had abandoned comedy for tragedy, tearing up as he begged the commissioners to just grant him “a legitimate opportunity to fail.”

The commission expedited that request immediately, by turning thumbs down on the spot zoning request. Stover will appeal to the City Council in a couple of months.

Failure, legitimate or otherwise, will likely be sustained, Stover fears. But victory would be sweet. Stover searched his mind for a comparable triumph: Kind of like when the Americans beat the Russians in hockey at the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...