Architect renderings of the proposed development show towers clustered at the riverfront edge of the property. Credit: Perez

Greater Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church in the Lower 9th Ward’s Holy Cross neighborhood was the scene of a packed Valentine’s Day meeting—not quite a massacre, but no bouquet of roses either.

The fight over placing multi-story buildings along the riverfront—a recurrent theme in community politics around Audubon Park for some years—is breaking out on a new front: the campus of the former Holy Cross school located along the levee and bounded by Reynes and Deslondes streets and St. Claude Avenue.

Perez, the architecture and development firm behind the proposal,  has gone public with a plan that would include, in addition to low-rise buildings, two 13-story apartment towers far taller than allowed in a blueprint for the site developed through a community planning process.

The first part of a multi-phase project, the proposal calls for 181 residential units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space and parking for 349 cars—and that’s just for starters.

Perez’s Steven Massicot told a standing-room-only audience of 80 to 100 people that later phases might include another 130 units and additional parking for approximately 200 vehicles.

Perez executive Angela O’Byrne called the meeting “a good first step” saying that she and her colleagues took lots of notes. She said the developers will continue to work with the community.

The proposal is a far cry from what the neighbors envisioned in a yearlong $300,000 planning process initiated when the venerable Holy Cross School decamped for Gentilly and put the grounds and buildings up for sale.

Sarah DeBacher—she is on the board of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, but speaks as owner of an adjacent home—said she isn’t interested in looking out her kitchen window at a high-rise project. “What we were presented last night was hugely different from what was narrowly approved four years ago,” she said in a follow-up conversation with The Lens.

And what does this development do to address the abundance of “vacant and blighted housing” in Holy Cross, DeBacher asked. If the developer wanted to “open a dialogue with the community, this is a bad way to start,” she said.

The earlier planning process resulted in support for a zoning change—approved by a 13-10 vote of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association—to permit construction of a building 75 feet high. The plans presented Thursday night call for two connected 135-foot structures.

“In order to preserve green space, there is only one direction we can go, and that’s up,” O’Byrne said in defense of the towers.

Earlier plans also stressed that the Holy Cross community’s view of the levee and the school’s venerable administration building, with its graceful wrought-iron galleries, must be unobstructed. Current plans block the view.

The zoning variance sought by Perez would affect 7.7 acres of the 12.3 acres they are purchasing.* The impacted acreage is the part of the campus closest to the river, with additional zoning changes to be requested on the remaining acreage as the project progresses.

Gambit newspaper owner Clancy DuBos, a former member of the Holy Cross School board, spoke at the Thursday night meeting. He said he “thanked Jesus” when Perez Architects contacted the school about purchasing the site, because, Dubos said, they “get” the neighborhood.

Judging from the groans and gasps emitted when the plans went up on the screen, the developer may get the neighborhood, but the neighborhood does not seem to be getting with the plan.

Developers are scheduled to go before the City Planning Commission March 26. Final approval would require a vote of the City Council.

*Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the acreage of the property in question. The error has been corrected.

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...