The developer behind a controversial condominium complex in the Holy Cross neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward has dropped the proposed height of two riverfront buildings from 75 to 60 feet.
That’s in line with a draft of citywide zoning rules — and 7.5 feet shorter than an existing historic building on the site — but it’s still well above the neighboring houses, said the head of the neighborhood association.
“The administration building [of the former Holy Cross school] is not an appropriate point of reference for the towers. The surrounding neighborhood is,” Sarah DeBacher, the president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, said in an email.
Her group has accused developer Perez, APC and its public-relations firm, Velocity Agency, of unethical tactics in trying to generate support for the project. Among their complaints: forged signatures on a petition supporting the project, a positive story planted in a college newspaper and vague promises of future development.
The city has to sign off on the height and density of the project. Two city agencies failed to reach consensus, opting to forward the matter to the City Council without a recommendation. It was pulled from the council agenda two weeks ago to allow the developer and the neighbors to reach an agreement.
Tuesday afternoon, Perez sent DeBacher a letter stating that the firm had revised its plans, dropping the height to 60 feet and eliminating plans to develop the site north of Royal Street, which “eliminates 161 units and approximately 200,000 feet of buildings.”
Regarding the new height, Senior Vice President Steven Massicott wrote:
The 60 foot height limit is lower than the existing administration building which is 67 feet. Accordingly, the historic administration building will stand as the highest building on the site and its bell tower will remain the highest point in the neighborhood.
While we acknowledge some have urged for just a 40 foot limit, we believe the 60 foot limit represents a significant compromise from our initial proposal of 135 feet and most recent proposal of 75 feet. It is also in line with the mixed-use medium density master plan designation for this site.
DeBacher said she doesn’t think the development should be evaluated against a draft zoning ordinance rather than current law, which allows for just 40 feet.
“We do not understand why the City Planning Commission staff — and Perez — are using an unfinished draft CZO [Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance] to justify 60 feet of height,” she said.
Massicot said in the letter that the firm would sign a “Good Neighbor Agreement” with the community.
“Working with the community is not just important to us; it’s one of our core values,” he wrote. “That’s why we have been working on this project for 18 months and even withdrew our zoning proposal last year to provide more time for community input.”
The rezoning was on the agenda for Thursday’s City Council meeting, but DeBacher said Thursday night she had been informed by Councilman James Gray’s office that the matter would be deferred for another two weeks.
Earlier Thursday, DeBacher expressed frustration with what she described as an “11th-hour tactic” to present a compromise.
“It does not allow time for the so-called compromise plan to be vetted by the community,” she said.
Perez had told neighbors that it couldn’t afford to drop the height to 60 feet. In response to The Lens’ questions about that issue and the timing of the revised request, Massicott said although the plan was just released this week, it does address the community’s concerns.
This story was revised after publication to note that the zoning approval would be deferred for another two weeks.