Tulane quest to rezone 'peripheral' properties dominates Master Plan hearing

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The former Pike frat house on Broadway is among Tulane properties the university seeks to rezone from “residential” to “institutional”. (Photo by Matt Davis)

The Planning Commission as well as the general public logged late hours at City Hall Tuesday night. The occasion was an Amendments to the Master Plan meeting, and while it kicked off smartly at 6 p.m., it didn’t break up until 10.

The recently adopted Master Plan has a provision that allows the public to submit amendments and requests annually.

The 146 page Preliminary Staff Report prepared for planning commissioners was made available the day of the hearing, presenting a challenge to any members of the community who wanted to weigh in during the evening’s public comment period.

Applicants for amendment requests ranged from individuals to City Council members to business interests. And the discussion ranged from tweaks that would impact a single property to broad planning issues – but Tulane University’s land use ambitions dominated the discussion.

The university has tendered requests to change land use categories on several of its properties from “residential” to “institutional,” raising hackles among local residents.

Uptown resident Daryl Malek Wiley questioned Tulane’s timing. “The series of changes seems like a stealth operation,” he said, adding that, “We don’t know what they are asking for” since the “institutional” designation’s precise definition has yet to be fleshed out.

While Wiley said he supports the university he cautioned that there needs to be “full citizen involvement” in land use decisions. It’s not just Uptown that will be impacted, but eastern New Orleans as well, he said.

Wiley was referring to an undeveloped eight-acre parcel that Tulane has acquired on Hayne Boulevard. The site, now classified as “residential low density” would also be reclassified as “institutional” if Tulane prevails.

Audubon Boulevard resident Maura Sylvester cautioned against the changes, warning that Tulane’s proposal amounts to “eliminating the voices of the neighbors surrounding these institutions.”

Several Tulane Board members were present at the event and the university attracted plenty of support for its proposals.

Michael Strecker, Tulane’s director of public relations, noted that the plan’s “future land use” maps identify the campus as an “institutional use”  “but “several peripheral properties owned and used by the university for university purposes are mapped as residential.” Those are the properties Tulane wants to see zoned “institutional”.

Betsy Nalty, a Tulane board member and lifelong resident of New Orleans, said  Tulane “has worked especially hard in the community.” She warned that a master plan insensitive to the university’s needs “would have a negative influence on the wonderful work done by Tulane”.

John Koerner who described himself as a neighbor and board member, said that Tulane is trying to “protect the perimeter of the university.” The master plan without amendments could  “inhibit the university,” he said.

The commissioners opened the meeting with a vote to extend the deadline for written public comment until Feb. 1. Commissioners will vote on the plan Feb. 14.

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