Land Use

So what if Holy Cross towers defy the zoning code — it’s only the Lower Ninth

This rendering shows part of the Holy Cross proposal. The company originally proposed a 13-story tower, but reduced that to 7 stories, as shown here. That's still well above what's allowed by the city's Master Plan.


This drawing shows part of a proposed development in the Holy Cross neighborhood. The company originally proposed a 13-story building but later reduced the maximum height to 75 feet. That's still well above the maximum allowed by the city.*

If 14 acres of empty, grass-filled riverfront property existed Uptown, or in Marigny or Bywater, you can bet that community pressure would have ensured the resounding defeat of a proposed condo complex that involves 75-foot high-rise towers and hundreds of new residential units.

But in the Lower Ninth Ward, a village of one- and two-family historic homes, such a proposal may well be on its way to approval. City Planning Commission staff toyed with shrinking the towers to 60 feet, but then couldn’t bring themselves to make a recommendation for or against the project, which now has bounced to the City Council.

Even at 60-feet the towers would still exceed the zoning code’s current height limit by 50 percent — surely way more than the Holy Cross community thought would be entailed in the Master Plan’s call for “medium height” in that area. And at 75 feet, the towers soar beyond even what’s sanctioned by the Lafayette Square Historic District in the heart of downtown New Orleans. The Lafayette Square group managed to negotiate a zoning-code maximum of 65 feet on Julia Street.

The Holy Cross plan, promoted by the politically well-connected Perez Architecture firm, calls for 284 residential units, plus commercial uses, 500 parking places and the loss of a stand of live oaks. This is nearly quadruple the current density of an historic neighborhood noted for its small-town feel!

Did the citizens of this city go through years of excruciating public planning meetings to develop a Master Plan that would be so loosely interpreted — and perhaps betrayed — in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance now aborning? Were we ever told that what the Master Plan meant by “medium height” could mean towers taller than would be tolerated on Julia Street?

The Holy Cross proposal is merely the opening salvo in what’s sure to be a years-long fight to stud the waterfront with high-rise residential towers. Bywater, Marigny — probably the whole Sliver by the River is at risk. Holy Cross will set the precedent.

But, hey, this is just Holy Cross, right — a part of the much-maligned Lower Ninth Ward? Developers and their political allies seem to feel that authentic community opposition can be ignored, or at least overshadowed by the kind of fake community consent that developers and their PR consultants know how to manufacture.

Despite all manner of impediments, Holy Cross is slowly but surely coming back, one historic house at a time. Values and prices are rising but plenty of vacant shotguns and other splendid houses remain to be rehabbed, as the community gradually repopulates with both returnees and newcomers.

What makes the developer’s plan for the condo/retail complex even more egregious is the way it defies the months of effort the Holy Cross community put into finding a superior alternative. This was done at the behest last summer of District E City Council member James Gray amid widespread discontent with the Perez proposal after it was unveiled last June.

In response, seven Lower Nine community groups, calling themselves the Lower 9 Vision Coalition, came together. They met five times over two months for brainstorming sessions that each attracted 30 to 75 engaged residents. With the professional help of the Tulane City Center, a program of the Tulane School of Architecture, this very real community unveiled three alternatives at a January press conference but has never had a chance to present them before an official city agency.

It’s easy and common these days for developers to hire a public relations firm to stage phony “community meetings” and hire people to carry supportive signs. By contrast, the grassroots Vision Coalition’s planning process was a genuine expression of neighborhood sentiment, and its mission was clear: to come up with smarter ideas for developing the space without undermining the historic character of the community.

Clearly, the Holy Cross Brothers want to sell the long-held property. The school that occupied the property for more than a century has been moved to Paris Avenue. And clearly, Councilman Gray wants to see development on the site that would bring jobs (alas, not necessarily for local residents). Just as clearly, this large tract of land can’t be kept in mothballs forever.

But the inequity in the way the Perez proposal is being steamrolled past the community is as stark as it is deplorable. The city has spent millions of FEMA dollars on “Reinventing the Crescent,” creating a 1.4-mile riverfront park that connects Bywater and Marigny to the French Quarter.

Perhaps it is too much to expect the Lower Nine to have a glorious park the way Uptown has Audubon Park and Mid-City and Lakeview have City Park. But the proposed condo complex is an alien intrusion that adds insult to injury — an especially daunting blow to a community that survived Betsy and Katrina and fought successfully for years to avert the destruction that would have come with a widening of the Industrial Canal.

To assume a more responsible developer will not come along to do the right thing is, in fact, both short-sighted and irresponsible. The gradual renewal of Holy Cross is there for all to see. Houses are being saved; a popular new restaurant on Dauphine Street is an early sign of a more robust economic renewal. How thoughtless — how just plain greedy — to abort a grassroots community initiative and shred the Master Plan that is supposed to guide the city’s post-Katrina recovery.

Roberta Brandes Gratz is an award-winning journalist, urban critic and author of three books about urban development. Her next book will be about the recovery of New Orleans after Katrina.

*Correction: The image first published with this column showed the original proposal, which was for a 13-story building. The company now proposes a maximum height of seven stories. (March 28, 2014)

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  • SCR

    The information contained in this article is completely miss leading and grossly bias. There are assertions made which are completely false.

  • crabioscar

    “There are assertions made which are completely false.”

    such as?

  • JBL

    I have sent a response to your story, please check. I have screenshots and evidence about how the community really feels about this false Lower 9th movement Perez and their agency are promoting. Thank you for reporting this, The Lens!

  • 1NONewsladder2

    The CEO of Perez tweeted at me yesterday to let me know that she was involved in crafting The Master Plan BTW Ms. O’Byrne should know I screen-saved that tweet before she deletes it.
    My reply:

    These people are beyond slick: I was informed via twitter @itsneworleans that Perez will
    appear on the next episode on WWNO, our non-profit public radio. The show thought my opposition was cute, and ridiculed me and others who came on to berate them for allowing such a usurpation of our public radio by a developer seeking free PR. “It’s New Orleans” glibly claimed they were being fair and balanced. Well, this is NOT why I contribute to WWNO.
    My point here is we can’t compete financially with Perez, or their developers.

    If you note on my reply to Ms. O’Byrne, the Church still owns the property, which is zoned residential.

    Thanks you for this poignant article.

    Editilla the Pun

  • JBL

    Please help me share the screenshots I have from the comments being deleted and the users being blocked from . The owner of their PR company has been making threats to the residents of Lower Ninth!

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Are you the Perez astroturfer who tried to tango with me over this
    earlier in the week? What you’re doing is Astroturf: false community
    connection without any facts, Innuendo and out the other, Braaaah. Go home and call yer monanem

  • Ken Foster

    The anonymous commenter reserves the right to keep that information to herself.

  • Ken Foster
  • care to share, SCR? or are you content w/ just astroturfing?

  • excellent opinion article, thank you. this sort of development doesnt belong in Holy Cross. our river front should belong to us, not a condo hive.

  • jeffreyskooks

    Wait a minute. I thought Jackie Clarkson wrote the Master Plan all by herself.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    It’s funny to me that ReviveLower9 exhibits such hubris to think we haven’t researched them, Angela O’Byrne and Perez.
    What’s embarrassing is how they think they can pass themselves off as something they are not
    They paid to be on the radio. I wonder if they paid It’s New Orleans. I wonder if they contribute to WWNO to simply gain the obvious free PR angle.
    Carpetbaggers from our own back yard, traitors, unscrupulous developers who don’t give a damn about the neighborhood they profess to “revive” by turning it into Florida.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Jackie just took their money and ran. I wonder who else Angela O’Byrne and Perez have “lined up” on the City Council. Does anyone know when this vote will go down?

  • Sandra Stokes

    The proposed plan is simply out of scale and out of character for a National Historic District. The proposal would plop a monstrous blob in the midst of a tranquil, quaint historic neighborhood. In no way does it blend – or compliment the qualities that make the area so desirable in the first place.

    The neighborhood has fought hard to come back – let’s attempt to be respectful of what they have struggled to rebuild.

  • Jeremy

    The picture shown here is not the most recent renderings. Anyone who’s been keeping up with this development knows this

  • 1NONewsladder2

    I would have preferred this entire process to be more open and forthcoming. I would prefer to not have to deal with ReviveLower9 PR astroturfers. I would prefer that Angela O’Byrne and Perez NOT submit a proposal for twice the allowed height on our river front. I’d prefer they not shake with one hand and pick our pocket with the other.
    Care to elaborate on the tax credits these folks will utilize by “reviving” this property?
    How about the Private Security company they’ll need to make time-sharers feel safe enough to invest?
    Care to comment on the shadow this Condo Tower will literally cast over the entire neighborhood?

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Yeah, we can protest at the site, at City Council and at Perez offices if necessary. We can call our CC members and urge they Not support this Condo Tower. BTW, it’s their design. Do you know how tall 7 stories is? Appx 75 feet, casting a huge shadow across the neighborhoods. Gone morning-afternoon sunlight in blocks upstream and gone evening sunlight downstream.

    [Do you guys have anything better to do than sit behind your keyboards and fight progress with half-truths and false information?]
    Come on, stop with irrelevant ad hominem attacks. That means attacking the person rather than the argument.
    BTW, we notice you can’t seem to list any of your so-called “half-truths and false information”. Most of our info comes from Perez.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Commenter above tried that one. It’s about the height. It’s about arrogantly submitting this proposal with dbl allowed height. It’s about steamrolling, public relations and connections, with which we the people cannot compete financially.
    You assume we have not been keeping up with this sad development? I might’ve been born at night, but it wasn’t last night, Brah.

  • Joshua

    of the people commenting here are the biggest clowns
    I think I have ever come across. What are y’all doing for your
    community? You sit around and tweet, comment and Facebook your
    “opinions” when in reality you’re all probably jobless, uneducated and
    have no real stake in this project or neighborhood at all. I
    bet half of the people here don’t even know what they’re fighting for.
    Get a grip and let the people who actually can help this city, do so,
    instead of standing in the way of progress and change.

    say the word “astroturf” five more times we didn’t hear you the first
    time. Congrats, you know how to use wikkipedia. You have literally no
    idea what you’re talking about that’s pretty clear to anyone who takes a
    look at your twitter. You’re clearly just an
    ambulance chaser and I’m sure you’ll be onto the next thing when this
    all blows over.

    spend all your time online, why don’t you get off your phone and get a job.

    doubt a bunch of elitist assholes who got degrees in communications and
    PR would “threaten” you or anyone in the community. If you have the
    screen shots, why haven’t you showed them? You have no idea whats even
    going on, and just like all the other clowns,
    you’re chasing around the commotion- grow up.

    no real arguments so you hide behind all this crap to try and try to
    ignore the real issues. Educate yourselves and come up with a logical
    argument or stream of thought before you go running your keyboards.

    put half as much effort into the community as you do trying to rip the
    people down who actually care about the wellbeing of this city, new
    orleans would be a much better place.

  • crabioscar

    you’re a doofus. where do you live? I live about 6 blocks from the proposed construction site. It is absolutely in my community. Same with many (most?) of the people posting in opposition here.

    Seriously though, where do you live that gives you such authority? Are you my neighbor and we just disagree? Or are you from somewhere else entirely and just trolling?

  • Steve Myers

    Please keep the comments civil and discuss the issues at hand, without insulting one another.

    Steve Myers
    Managing Editor

  • Steve Myers

    Please, keep the comments civil and discuss the issues at hand, without insulting one another.

    Steve Myers
    Managing Editor

  • 1NONewsladder2


  • Steve Myers

    Angela O’Byrne of Perez wrote a response to this column:

    She writes, “The article includes a discussion of “authentic community opposition,” which I do not discredit. However, there is also authentic community support, which in the article, was belittled by claims that the project’s supporters are receiving payments for their attendance at committee hearings. This is completely false. There are hundreds of genuine supporters surrounding this project, as confirmed by circulating petitions in favor of this development.”

    In response, Roberta Gratz said, “I didn’t accuse them of paying anyone; I simply observed that this is a standard ploy by developers, one of many techniques for fostering the appearance of community support.”

    Steve Myers
    Managing Editor

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Has anyone seen these alleged “petitions in support”?
    And, as Ms O’Byrne seems so talkative, how about a list of the investors in this behemoth?

    No, Ms Gratz did Not accuse anyone in ReviveLower9 of unethical Public Relations, as Ms O’Byrne alleges. O’Byrne is picking at straw men. Desperate as that is, ReviveLower9, her PR arm for this project, has indeed engaged in unethical PR by blocking opposing comments from their facebook page and deploying negative commentators here. Of course you’ll never find any evidence of this. That’s just not how their game is played.

  • Jane

    What character does the Holy Cross neighborhood have? It was destroyed by Besty and Katrina. Why oppose progress which will bring expansion to an area laying fallow.

  • Nick Kindel

    Haha, only one month left to get in those Jackie Clarkson jokes

  • crabioscar

    Omigod stop it. You people are looking silly. Do you really get paid for this? I can’t imagine who else would post this, but you’d think ReviveLower9 functionaries would be maybe a bit better at this game.

  • honeyabeille

    The sketch accompanying this article is laughable. Is this really the best image to illustrate the impact of this enormous, complex development? Seriously? Anyone remember the Romney Pilates debacle? Those neighbors were shown a sketch of a cute building, and thought, hey, this is fine. Of course, the sketch wasn’t in any way binding and they flipped when they realized what was *actually* going to be built.

    A proposal for a development of this size and scale should include detailed drawings so that the public has a chance to vet what is really on the table. Has the developer provided that? I can’t find it on their Revive Lower 9 website or Facebook page. One has to wonder why that kind of basic information isn’t readily available. It would be a sign of good faith.

    And one last thing: the developer uses the terms “height” and “density” as though they are interchangeable. One does not automatically mean the other. See also: French Quarter. Treme. Marigny.

  • Denise M
  • honeyabeille

    Again, I ask: seriously? I did projects in architecture school that required more detail than the sketches and simplistic site plans shown in that link. The developer claims that she has investors, right? Well show us the drawings you’ve shown them. Because I guarantee you no one forked over a penny based on this piddlin’ stuff.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Steve, Revive Lower 9 isn’t listed with the state. Rumor has it they were deployed by Velocity PR, which was engaged by Perez. Can you ask Ms O’Byrne to clear this up? Just trying to bust rumors here.
    If true, it would definitely altar the playing field.

  • crabioscar

    one of those sketches shows that the new building will not exceed the height of the current school building. Is that correct?

    also, Perez is asking for commercial zoning I believe. But have any businesses signed up for space yet other than Perez’s own offices? I’d like to know these kinds of things so that I’m sure they’re not building a strip mall in a neighborhood.

  • Joseph Alan Croisant

    Come on. Comparing the Holy Cross site to Julia street is insulting to the Holy Cross Site. It’s a simple enough development that is going through the process of requesting a zoning change. The article makes it seem like this is some back-room deal. I’ve been hearing about this project for … years. At least three … i think. The zoning change their requesting allows for 75 feet of building, and the densities they’re asking for. I’m a big fan of The Lens, but this article seems to have a bit of venom between the lines.

    “The Holy Cross proposal is merely the opening salvo …” srsly?

    “It’s easy and common these days for developers to hire a public relations firm to stage phony “community meetings” and hire people to carry supportive signs.” … NIIICE!!! – so you’re saying that’s what Perez did, or are you just mad?

    “To assume a more responsible developer will not come along to do the right thing is, in fact, both short-sighted and irresponsible.” … so a more responsible developer would propose a building you like? Also, you’re implying Perez is not a responsible enough developer for your taste.

    “What makes the developer’s plan for the condo/retail complex even more egregious is the way it defies the months of effort the Holy Cross community put into finding a superior alternative.” … it’s superior? Why didn’t you say so!!??? I’m sure the investors are waiting with open wallets. How much capitol has the superior design brought to the table?

    “But the inequity in the way the Perez proposal is being steamrolled past the community is as stark as it is deplorable.” … really?

    “How thoughtless — how just plain greedy — to abort a grassroots community initiative and shred the Master Plan that is supposed to guide the city’s post-Katrina recovery.” … Have you any idea how silly this sounds?

    The writer’s opinions are valid, but their emotions dictated the content of the story. Personally, I am a fan of Perez. I am also a fan of Angela.

    Architects in this city stepped up in a huge way after the storm, and most (Angela included) donated thousands of man hours worth of work to help people get back in their homes. I think we should be more careful with our words, before we go painting our great local companies as anything less than wonderful.

    and no … I don’t work for Perez.

  • Ken Foster

    It’s disappointing to see that The Lens appears to have bowed to pressure and replaced the illustration for this editorial with a sketch of a corner of a building, without any reference to the true scope of their plan or its relationship to the surrounding community. It seems Perez truly is powerful.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Really. If that’s the best drawing they’ve got then this Butt Eye Project should be keelhauled down the river anyway. It seems obvious, to me, that Ms O’Byrne and poor Steve are having more detailed conversations in private than she is willing to breach here in this forum of record. HA! I wonder if she showed up at the office, tube in hand, corners the Lens staff in the back room. Karen was prolly at lunch, or she’da… what? Oh! hehehe But seriously, What The Hell went Down here with this paltry illustration?!? Inquiring nines want to know.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Mr. Croisant, please don’t wrench this critique into an attack on New Orleans architects. Some of my best friends are architects. As for your other counterpoint, well, I just wish you would make one.

  • Steve Myers

    A couple of commenters and Angela O’Byrne of Perez complained about the image, saying it depicted the original proposal, which called for a much taller building. When you look at it closely (it still on our story from Feb. 2013: ), you can see that the building is 12 or 13 stories. The current proposal is for a 7-story building. We removed the image because it was inaccurate.

    We asked for depictions of the current proposal and Velocity, Perez’ PR firm, provided two images — neither of which do much to show the height of the buildings compared to the rest of the neighborhood. (Here’s the other one: )

    We asked for other images and have yet to receive anything else. Steve Beatty and I decided to replace the outdated image with this one because it, at least, depicts the current proposal and it shows the height better than the other image they offered us.

    Steve Myers
    The Lens

  • Steve Myers

    See above…

  • Steve Myers

    The Revive Lower 9 website has a “Team” section that lists Perez and its employees. The contact page shows a Perez email address.

    Today one of our editors spoke with someone at Velocity, who said his firm had developed the website and the social media campaign. I have no knowledge that “Revive Lower 9” is more than a site and a social media campaign.

  • Joseph Alan Croisant

    I think you may be taking things on this site a bit too personally. My comments are directed at the slant/bias of the writer/writing. I could have copied and pasted the whole article, but I kept it to just a few examples I found fun. It’s real easy to let your opinions go too far, and we should be mindful of how we depict our neighbours.

    This article is an attack against a local architect and architecture firm, who happens to have earned a great reputation thru years of hard work (charitable, community action, and professional).

    This article is inadvertently attacking any local architecture firm who would seek to develop any property anywhere in the city by way of seeking a zoning change. (Lord save us, if anyone FROM New Orleans develop anything … can’t we find a superior developer from Florida to save us?!) <- that's a joke.

    Let us not confuse the issue. They are seeking a zoning change for a piece of land. That's all. They'll get it, or they won't.

    … and finally. "1NONewsladder2" … "wrench" "…I wish you would make one." You seem fun. I think if we met, I'd enjoy it.

  • Joseph Alan Croisant

    Sweet Lord!

    I just read your other posts and your twitter stuff.

    You’re a mean person. Most of post are dedicated to glorifying how mean you can be.

    Is this what The Lens is about? It’s starting to look a lot like

  • Ken Foster

    Why would you allow them to choose these two incredibly limited view “artistic renderings” when the actual plans, elevations etc are available on their astroturf Facebook page:

    By allowing them editorial control–of an opinion piece, yet–you seem to have turned over control of this publication.

  • Steve Myers

    I’ve looked at all the images on the Revive site and on the Facebook page. None of them include elevations. There is no image of the current plan available online that shows a similar view as the old image. We asked for one, and we have not received it. We’re not going to leave an image up after we find out that the plans have changed.

  • Ken Foster

    Well, actually the link I shared is a facebook image that does show the elevations in relation to the neighborhood. Also, the plans have been presented to City Planning and the HDLC, which make them a matter of public record.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Thanks, Steve.
    Then I wonder who’s doing these alleged neighborhood petitions Ms O’Byrne cited. They definitely pass themselves off as concerned neighbors, when in fact they are paid operatives.

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Oh Chrast, Croisant, grow a pair. That’s my good side `-)

  • 1NONewsladder2

    Thanks again, Steve. You can lede a cow, but you can’t make it brand.

  • nickelndime

    Is this “Auggie” (August Perez, III, or are there more IV, V, VI – no! that is too many) Perez? Connected to Joseph Canizaro? I have fallen over, am off the chair, preparing for the tsunami, or whatever comes next. It would appear that others may be onto what is going on here. Must this community be repeatedly abused before WE say, “Enough”? Hello THE LENS – I do not fault you on this. Please get whatever it is that Ken knows we need to see. Thank you very much.

  • nickelndime

    Okay – I am with Joan Rivers on this one. There are a lot of Scrabble points for the “C” in between the # and the # and the #. Velocity. What is this? ###! I like this one, “You can lead a ho to water, but you can’t make her think.”

  • Ken Foster

    Actually, this is how they identify themselves. Or misidentify themselves: “Revive Lower 9 is a group made up of New Orleanians with big plans to bring jobs, community outreach and opportunity to the Historic Lower Ninth Ward.”

  • Ken Foster

    Also: “The recovery of the city happened in stages. In the beginning, everyone wanted to help, that’s not the case anymore. In the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans there is still rebuilding to do. #reviveLower 9 was created for that very purpose- to inspire this city to come forward as a united front and repopulate an area so many were forced to leave behind. We need to bring vitality and life back to the Lower 9th Ward. The recovery of this city can only be measured by the area that lost the most. We have waited almost 9 years, we will not wait any longer. It’s time we stand up and fight for change. We can bring back the energy and excitement that makes up the very fiber of this city. We can not and will not let another opportunity like this pass us by. We must seize the moment, stand up for what’s important and fight for a better future. Make no mistake, this chance is ours.

  • Steve Myers

    In addition to the images I posted in this comment earlier, we’ve gotten a couple of other images that show other perspectives.
    This one is from Perez:
    This one is from a member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association:

  • Ben

    As a former student of Holy Cross and an active member in this community, I don’t know how you can say the lower 9th survived Katrina. It has almost been 10 years, and the lack of progress is down right criminal. The blame for that, however, lies on the shoulders of the people who write articles such as these.

    Yes, slowly shotgun houses are being bought in the holy cross neighborhood. That is because knowledgeable/active investors see the opportunity this development will have in the area, which will give them big gains in property value. If it was not for this, the area would still be untouched for the most part.

    If you want to keep it the same, then you will be responsible for holding back a community that wants to re distinguish itself form the crime nest that it was before the storm.

    Support change, Support growth, Support the community.

    Also, have you been on that levee? It has the best view of the CBD in town. It would be a crime NOT to take advantage of that.

  • Marc PoKempner

    How about some creative adaptive reuse of the Holy Cross School building, without expansion, or destruction of the (rare in the neighborhood) ancient trees? We do need more grocery stores, more restaurants, more retail activity, but we don’t need high rise luxury condos, more regulation of community use of the levy or real estate sweetheart deals. How can we help get it right?

  • ErinJaneFoster1

    Any intelligent human being can see that the Lens is no more biased that the PR people doing this campaign!!! Hello! If all you post is negative articles filled with bias than you’re just as bad. If you want to leave the nonsense behind and just look at the actual project, the information is out there…

    Eric Oneal the Karate champ wants to open a studio down there too! between this and the cooking school the kids down there will have something to actually do! OUR youth cpuld have direction and meaning!!!

  • ErinJaneFoster1

    Also, Angela Obyrne did a TON of work on this city After Katrina… She created city works, did work for free, and help small businesses . why is everyone being so ruthless with her? she is not a huge corporation she is a person trying to help an area that has gotten hardly any redevelopment since the storm. i can’t belieec y’all would publicly hate her so much after everything she’s done for us.