Land Use

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

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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About 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 to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Michelle

    Tulane has proposed to demolish 2 more buildings on the edge of the campus: 7008 & 7016 Zimpel.

  • Michael Rouchell

    Why isn’t Tulane exempt from complying with the Master Plan like LSU?

  • Don

    LSU is exempt as a formality. LSU is a state owned institution and therefore the property is owned by the State. Accordingly, a long list of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have set precedents such as “Dillion’s Rule” which clearly lays out that municipal governments obtain there authority from the state and that the state can increase, decrease, or elimiate a municipalites authority that the state bestowed upon it.

    Simply put had LSU not been exempted the State could have easily removed the cities authority to regulate it. The city wisely decided not to fight a legal battle that it can not ultimatly win or a political battle when New Orleans no longer has the political clout in the legislature it once had. On the other hand Tulane is a private institution.

  • William S.

    Tulane generally wants what the community wants. Has there been residential discussion regarding how they would like the tentative properties developed? A student center? A clinic? Sounds like a good opportunity for Tulane to sponsor a Candy Change installment…