BNA Supports Sun Yard

 

Bywater Neighborhood Association has submitted, formal written support for the Sun Yard development on St Claude. The full text is quoted below. The quotes from Bywater residents in the letter are not additions; they are in the original letter.

Please not especially that these people said they did not come out into open or spoken support before because they felt intimidated. The opposition has been verbally violent and occasionally almost unhinged. I experienced some of that personally in a mediated meeting with Legislative Director Maklansky and mediator David Zalkind present. Not that I felt intimidated – that hadn’t crossed my mind. It was just a meeting; my blood pressure was at about average. But the associated opponents said they did not feel “safe” with Mary Ann Hammett and me in the room. What is your state of mind when that is how you think of others in a meeting that is supposed to be a calm discussion?

This morning, the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association stepped into the ring to support Neighbors First in opposition. Interesting. Perhaps NFB is feeling incompetent, which would be an honest appraisal. FMIA is crossing a border. It could be dangerous. They are giving a license for BNA to enter into Marigny matters. Maybe they should expand their area of coverage and change to BMNA. FMIA won’t really be up to speed on the project. They are just sharing in NFB’s policy of always supporting the few against the many, and despite their frequent talk of affordable housing, consistently supporting residential gentrification and house price appreciation against community benefit.

If you care about this beneficial project, please write to council. . And if you are a resident of Marigny, you might want to suggest to your NA that it gets back in its lane before the advocacy setup this side of Esplanade sees a drastic change.

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Via E-Mail

April 17, 2018

Councilmember Nadine M. Ramsey
City Hall, Room 2W70
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA  70112

Re:  Zoning Docket 021/18

Dear Councilmember Ramsey:

The Bywater Neighborhood Association (“BNA”) supports the application of 3000-3032 St. Claude Avenue, LLC, for a zoning change and a conditional use for a hotel in excess of 10,000 sq. ft. in the above-referenced zoning docket.  The BNA believe that the small hotel proposed will be good for the neighborhood as a whole and will be an asset to the community. The BNA urges the Council to reject the recommendation of the City Planning Commission, adopt the reasoning of the Commission’s staff and approve the zoning change and conditional use.

The Proposal

Liz Solms and Giuliano Pignataro, doing business as 3000-3032 St. Claude Avenue, LLC, dream of a small, laid-back, neighborhood-friendly hotel, nestled in a lush space at 3000-3032 St. Claude Avenue in Bywater – The Sun Yard.  They are proposing a 37-room hotel with a restaurant, bar and swimming pool. They envision a quiet but lively space where visitors and neighbors alike can relax, have a drink, bring their children and swim. They have been met with resistance, however – neighbors armed, not with pitchforks, but with signs saying “Block Out The Sun Yard” and “No.”  Terms like “party tourism” and “entertainment complex” have been used to inflame and create fear of bachelor parties gone wild and loud music invading the neighborhood. Indeed, some of the same people who opposed the hostel at Mazant and Royal are making some of the same specious arguments in this proceeding that were rejected in the hostel proceeding.  And, it has gotten personal:  members of the development team have been demonized and accused of lying to the opponents; supporters of the project have also been accused of lying to opponents and of being paid hacks.

The Zoning Change

To make their dream a reality, Solms and Pignataro need a zoning change for the back portion of three of the lots – 3014, 3020, and 3030 St. Claude Ave.  These lots are split-zoned, i.e., the front portions of the lots are zoned HMC-2, commercial, and the rear portions zoned HMR-3, residential. Opponents claim that this split-zoning a) was designed to provide a buffer for the residential properties on N. Rampart and b) has been in effect since the late 1800’s.

Commissioner Wedberg, in making his motion to deny the application, opined that “[t]his lot is problematic.  The zoning was laid out for a reason.” March 13 hearing, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkzmsfMBPko&t=200s at 1:9:50.  Yet, there is nothing in the record that indicates that the split-zoning was intentional.  Rather, it appears that the split-zoning was done in error.

One of the standards that must be analyzed in connection with a proposed zoning change is the following:  “The proposed amendment corrects an error or omission, adds clarification to existing requirements, or reflects a change in policy.”  Staff Report, ZD 021/18, at 40. The staff, experts in such matters, found, in analyzing the requested zoning change: “This standard is met. The proposed rezoning ameliorates three split-lot conditions and creates a uniform zoning which is consistent with the Mixed-Use Historic Core FLUM designation.”  Id.

Commissioner Wedberg also opined that the zoning-change request “attempts to unsettle the neighborhood from its residential history.”  March 13 hearing at 1:14:19. But, the history of the Bywater neighborhood is one of mixed use. Indeed, two properties in the 3000 block of N. Rampart – 3041 and 3053 N. Rampart — have been granted zoning changes from residential to commercial based on the Commission’s exception to the policy of not approving spot zones under its Historic Non-Conforming Use exception, which recognizes prior commercial use of properties currently zoned residential.  We note that two other properties in this same block are candidates for a similar zoning change based on prior commercial use – 1001 Montegut St. and 1000 Clouet St.

As to the assertion that the properties at issue have been split-zoned since the late 1800’s, the first time that this zoning appears was in 1970.  “The 1970 city-wide rezoning shows the first indication of a rezoning which resembles the current zoning. The rear portion of the petitioned lots under this zoning change request were converted to a residential zoning district while the portions of the lots nearest St. Claude were designated as a neighborhood business zoning district.”  Id. at 12, n. 3.  Prior to 1970, the zoning for the properties was, in1929 – “I” Industrial District & “E” Commercial District; in1953 – “F” Heavy Commercial District.  Id.  So, Commissioner Wedberg’s “residential history” starts in 1970 and ignores the mixed-use development patterns of the Bywater neighborhood of prior periods.

Benefits to the Neighborhood

This small hotel project will be a catalyst for development along this portion of St. Claude Avenue and provide opportunities for musicians and other artists in keeping with the goal of the St. Claude Avenue Arts and Cultural Overlay.  It will contribute to a lively street scene and encourage more people to be out and about, enhancing safety for all in the area.

Although not as vocal or as well-organized as the opponents, several supporters of the project posted on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, on Nextdoor Bywater, within hours of each other, some describing fear of voicing their support.  Because the Council may not have received comments from these supporters, we quote them here.

From Dia Napolitano, Bywater:

I think the Sun Yard is a good proposal for the Bywater. I have attached a list of reasons why I feel this way. BTW, I am a native of NOLA and live in the Bywater. I am a Louisiana licensed Interior Designer. I have relatives that contributed to the art & architecture of NOLA. Again, these are my thoughts & my feelings…please be kind.

I agree with the Planning Commission that it will “invigorate commercial activity along St Claude”.  Will create a cohesive block of restaurants with hotel. Improve safety having a well-lit hotel with security.  Will revive the Historical homes without losing the character of the homes & surrounding area. Unlike the complex of 2 story homes on Burgundy between Alvar & Bartholomew where all the houses look the same, photo attached, these houses retain the original charm.  This is NOT a massive project. A 37 room hotel is small in comparison to The Saxony is a 5 story complex with 75 condos, not rooms, built up to the side walk with a club like swimming pool. Will provide an alternative to STR’s & B&B’s. My aunt currently likes the amenities of a hotel and stays in the Quarter as the closest place to stay. This project is NOT taking affordable housing off the market.  With property taxes around 6.5K per house, insurance, mortgage payments my guess is that out of pocket per house is around 36K….that equals 1,500.00 rent per side minimum, probably more to break even. These old homes require a lot of maintenance. If it were me & this project didn’t get approved I would consider opening a restaurant/bar something like Bayou Beer Garden & Bayou Wine Garden. They have enough space if they only use the commercially zoned land.  I think that would be more intrusive to the neighbors than a hotel.

From David Peltier, Bywater:

I agree with you. This proposed development is on a major public thoroughfare, St. Claude Ave. I am in favor of any positive development along this route. I feel this development meets those ideals I have hoped for the area since I moved to my home in the 800 block of Montegut, just two blocks from this site.

  1. The CPC professionals that are hired by the City have approved this development with some suggestions.
  2. The CPC Board has been swayed by public opinion that, in my opinion, stirred up unfounded prejudices against this developer.
  3. I have heard only one issue that might be a concern and that is the rezoning of some residential property. Some the occupied residential properties that back up to this development, if not all, of those homes have back yards that act as a natural buffer.
  4. Plus, There is a planned fence that should act as an additional buffer.
  5. These developers have answered each question/complaint and have even altered the design of the development to the wishes of the neighbors. 6. Every City changes, every neighborhood changes and Bywater is no exception. I’ve been on Montegut St. since 1984 in this neighborhood and no one in their right mind ventured down St. Claude at night at that time. Now it has become a destination because of the efforts the neighborhood associations have contributed. I’m proud to say I was part of that effort.
  6. There are three developments, hotels, that are in existence or are planned inside the residential boundaries of Bywater and Marigny. Two I agree with one I do not. Never the less they are all approved or in existence.
  7. The Sun Yard’s proposed hotel is located not inside a residential neighborhood but on the edge of a fantastic neighborhood on a busy commercial avenue where a hotel should be developed.

From Richard Fumosa, Bywater:

I’ve seen a lot of work first-hand by the architectural firm who is based in NOLA and if any other firm was handling this project I would be worried. They are the most green and historically respectful firm in the city who work in the city that I am aware of, and the Bywater is lucky to have such a sensitive firm to work in the area. Granted there should be an open dialogue with the community but please study the work of this firm (see the CAC’s newer renovations for example in the CBD).

From Dia Napolitano, Bywater:

I was at one of the first meetings at the Bywater Bakery and due to the level of animosity I have been afraid to say anything. But as this 5 story impersonal building the Saxony has been going up (again, don’t mean to insult anyone – it is somebodies design and the interiors look like they will be beautiful, trying to be positive) I keep wondering why everyone is so harsh with the Sun Yard project. As a designer their plan is so much more aesthetically pleasing than some of the other projects that have been proposed. I really think this will be an asset to the neighborhood.

From Jay Clark, Bywater:

To answer Michelle’s question, yes I would buy next to a commercial hotel. They have licenses and many reasons to work things out with neighbors that normal folk don’t. When we moved in we had a heavy metal band practicing 3 feet away 3x a week for a year. They didn’t care a bit about us. They were artists. They finally moved on and now we have six apartments. So it goes. There is nothing about commercial businesses that make them inherently untrustworthy. We have no reason to assume that the Sunyard will be consistently more annoying than your typical Bywater neighbors. Give ‘em a break.

From Lillian Gahagan, Bywater:

I’m glad to read comments in support of what seems to me to be a positive proposal along St. Claude that I think will improve that area. One day to investigate the place, we walked from the Healing Center area up on St. Claude to where the cottages are and I gotta say, what the Sunyard people are proposing seems like a mighty improvement. Hey, we neighborly Bywaterites might even be drawn to a new place to have a cocktail and listen to music, or see visual art by locals adorn the walls. What really has swung me to be a supporter is the vitriol of the anti-Sunyard lobbyists. I have hesitated to speak out in support before now because of the nastiness of the conversation and the implicit censorship of any voices that did not completely agree with shutting off the light of day for the project. As a relative newcomer (3 years almost) I felt silenced, like only people who have lived here forever deserved to have an opinion. Plus, there are other projects that are going up all over Bywater that I think would deserve the same scrutiny. Well, that’s my two cents on the subject. If you hate me for my opinion, I’ve decided I just don’t care.

From Lynn Hochradel, Bywater:

The question is “would I really be so supportive if my house were as close?” … yes, I would. I bought our home in 2011 and across the street from me is a warehouse … I know it will not stay a warehouse forever. Shaun is planning on condos with retail on the ground floor … at least that is is current thinking, I’m told. I also back up to what is now the Warehouse shared office space and soon to be restaurant. I knew that building wasn’t going to always be an abandoned building … I will deal with the problems both will cause … or I won’t and will move. That’s the beauty of it … so, yes, I would be supportive of the Sun Yard because I do believe the owners are trying to incorporate into the neighborhood and keep the historic features the current properties have. Much more so than when the properties on St. Claude all go commercial and there isn’t any history left to be preserved.

Conclusion

For all of the forgoing reasons, the Bywater Neighborhood Association requests that the Council approve the requested zoning change and the conditional use.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Ann Hammett

Chair, Board of Directors

cc: Councilmember Stacy Head

Councilmember Jason Williams

Councilmember Susan Guidry

Councilmember LaToya Cantrell

Councilmember Jared Brossett

Councilmember James Gray II

 

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The Herd, Redux

A lot of Sun Yard has happened this week. A lot of new material to dig into,

After two mediation meetings sponsored by Councilmember Ramsey, chaired by Legislative Director Aylin Maklansky and professional mediator David Zalkind, I have increased sympathy for the opponents’ emotional distress. But Sun Yard was not the cause.

As Freud told us, the members of the herd reinforce each other’s passions and release of reason, but the initial gathering and the stampede must have had first leaders. They should think about what they have done to a lot of these people. Was it the adjoining property owners? I don’t know. They were the first opponents, and now, interestingly, are splitting away from the Bywater nationalists, who tell us on social media, in meetings and at City Hall that there is a very special, fragile “culture” of Bywater, which will be forever fractured if a small hotel opens on St Claude next to the dazzlingly hideous U-Haul rental lot, which they inexplicably pass as okay. They turn a blind eye to the area’s part industrial not-so-distant past. Even, as we shall see, Planning Commissioner Kyle Wedberg, who should and probably does know better, passed the commercializing  industrial sites off as aberrations or the result of carelessness in a once pristinely residential neighborhood.   

Sun Yard is a good thing for St Claude, for Bywater and New Orleans. The anxiety and adrenaline that has been unnecessarily pumped into the opponent herd is regrettable. I am sorry for their distress, but it was not incited by Sun Yard and it does not diminish the project.

Let’s explore – and then, if you agree, may I suggest sending an email of support to your Councilmember, or even better, to all of them? Sun Yard is on the docket for this coming Thursday, April 19th, so it would be good to get your communication in by the end of Tuesday.

The opposition is mistaken, but intense. They are bombarding Council with protest, including imaginary notions like a mysterious suppression of creativity and people prowling the streets with guns if this medium-sized business helps to cheer up a fairly bleak stretch of St Claude. By helping to balance the scales, you help City Council’s ability to come to a reasoned, future-orientated decision.

Some facts, some history.

Last Monday and Tuesday there were two Sun Yard meetings, arranged quickly by CM Ramsey’s office, to be guided by a professional mediator. One motivation must have been to get a conflict resolution professional’s reading on the realities behind the hysteria. As the meetings went on – they were about five hours combined – I saw that mediator David Zalkind was a kind of Opponent Whisperer, who would try to bring some calm to the over-excited crowd and gently extract some meaning from the emotional crush.

Last month the City Planning Commissioners – six of them who had shown up from the full complement of nine – declined their professional staff’s detailed report and recommendation of support.  Some of the opponents’ speechettes were pretty weird. The first guy’s workshop abuts a fence of the Truck Farm/Sun Yard. He said the St Claude properties had always been zoned residential, which isn’t true. His complaint seemed to be that he did not want anybody else to have a designation allowing work because they might make sounds that would disturb his work.

The second speaker seemed to be auditioning for a Tudor play. He somehow knew that provisos were no good, Safety and Permits would not know how to operate a dB meter and in any case, people talking was too loud for whatever he wanted to be doing when others were talking. I think it was this speaker that also rhetorically asked the staff members whether they had thought what it would be like if Sun Yard were near their homes. I can answer for them: of course. They study the impacts of projects all day long, five days a week. It’s their job, and they keep making a pretty good job of it.

One woman volunteered that she had seen a guy with an AK-47 one morning, and that she could tell that Giuliano and Liz did not truly love the neighborhood. Apparently, a medium sized business that won’t be open for a couple of years has some responsibility for the madness of America’s and Louisiana’s gun laws, and one must swear love of Bywater to invest in a business on St Claude.

You don’t believe me, right? This is not a draft of an SNL script. Watch the video. http://cityofno.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2935

The commissioners granted a five minute extension to adjacent neighbors’ speaking time. Ms Carolyn Leftwich took the mic. But Ms Leftwich was also an adjacent neighbor opposing Stateside, which is a mile away. How does that work? But okay. Ms Leftwich likes to sound scientific about sound, a show she started for Stateside. One of the most unconvincing thing about it is that there are restaurants, bars and small hotels all around New Orleans, playing live and recorded music. The city is full of them. Are thousands of people being noised out of normal life? I don’t think so. Yes, noise defined as unwanted sound needs control and mitigation – but the sky over Bywater is not falling. Sun Yard’s opponents are spreading anxiety as if music and the speech of humans other than themselves were a new strain of virus. CPC does not have the courage or intellectual honesty to call them on it. Council is tougher and smarter. Let’s hope they do.

Mark Gonzalez, an officer of Neighbors First (NFB), a conservative, shorter-sighted anti-Bywater Neighborhood Association, stood up to deliver a ridiculous indictment of the original neighborhood group’s way of arriving at recommendation. BNA puts cases to a zoning committee chaired by Mary Ann Hammett, a retired lawyer who has made herself expert in zoning law, maps and issues. Mary Ann was also chairman of the committee that wrote the St Claude overlay. In BNA, the zoning committee discusses, votes and sends a recommendation to the directors.  The directors discuss, decide and send a recommendation to Council and maybe even to CPC, though with the current Commission that can seem a waste of time, Not only all BNA members, but the public are invited to attend meetings of both the committee and the directors.

Gonzalez prefers the NFB process, where according to him they invite a bunch of people, outline the issue and come up with a recommendation by crowd acclamation or open vote of the uninformed. “Friends, Bywaterites and countrymen . . . .” I guess it is a step up from what their president once said to Council about their zoning recommendation process: she asks people what they think when she walks her dog. So Gonzalez has the unmitigated &^%$ to criticize BNA for being informed, disciplined and rigorous, while advocating a process completely unprotected from the obvious flaw: that the most vocal opponents, such as immediate neighbors, can fill the space – stuff the ballot box. That is what they think is good practice. BNA would call it noise.

BNA’s process mirrors the city’s system precisely: zoning committee=CPC, directors=council.

Gonzalez is the same guy that at Sun Yard’s NPP said you can’t start a restaurant if you never had one before, because some restaurants have closed. He came up with that bit of wisdom  while sitting in a meeting in the Bywater Bakery, an almost new restaurant that was doing very well, without, apparently, noticing the irony. Let’s not mention that Sergey Brin never launched any business including a search engine business before Google, Microsoft was Gates’s first company as well as software business and Tesla is Elon Musk’s first car company. Those entrepreneurs forgot to get some startup advice from Neighbors First before they took the plunge.

A few of the other opponents repeat this silliness at public meetings, as if we lived in some People’s Republic of New Orleans where wizards like the unreality stars of NFB can form committees to decide who is fit to launch or run which businesses. Good God. That is not the kind of improvement of market economics that we want to see.

The City Planning Commissioners are amateurs, easily and frequently swayed by emotional crowds. Commissioner Wedberg, principal of NOCCA in his day job, grabbed the wheel after the proponents and opponents spoke, His summation gave some lip service to change but was fundamentally a display of a mind either made up in advance or desiring to side with his neighbors and colleagues. He had come to the conclusion that Sun Yard might be nice in some other location, not the one the developers had purchased. Not, however, the question at hand. His perambulation did not address the questions that the staff report had set up, which were (1) the split zoning problem and (2) the conditional use. Wedberg went off on his own toot, responding almost exclusively to the opponents’ issues while ignoring those detailed in the research and report by Bob Rivers’ professional team. Commissioner Kelly Brown seconded Wedberg’s motion to deny with a reflex speed that suggests to my suspicious eye that they had agreed it in advance.

I think our current Council Members can see the capriciousness and inattention of the current CP Commission. The stronger of them will be likely to disregard Wedberg’s ramble, override the commission to go with the staff’s report.

This may not be the best place for it, but I can’t resist: I don’t see why we need a CP Commission at all. Except for Robert Steeg (who was not at this session and with whom I frequently disagree) none of the current intake seem to have a firm grasp of what they are doing. Why not just have Executive Director Rivers’ professional team report directly to Council? The Commissioners don’t decide, they only recommend, which is what the staff already does. I submit my humble proposal: dissolve the Commission and upgrade the staff.  

That loops me back to the mediation meetings. The first was pretty shambolic. The opponents were enthusiastic but had trouble focusing. They came up with the whiz-bang bit of popular democracy that Mary Ann Hammett and I should be excluded because they did not feel “safe” with us. Yep, I can be real dangerous in a meeting. Sun Yard’s opponents wanted exclusive access to Legislative Director Maklansky and mediator Zalkind. Mediation with one side only. Amazing. It was not a court, of course, but if Zalkind were a judge, that would be called ex-parte, an immediate mistrial, game over, Sun Yard could start working on its reservation software.

The second mediated meeting took place in one of Council’s conference rooms, with many of the opponents present and still just two of us civilians on the support side, plus Mr Pignataro for the development company (basically a pretty well financed Mom-and-Pop); Justin Schmidt, a lawyer for the project; Jason Richards, architect. Aylin Maklansky and David Zalkind again presided, with Councilmember Ramsey present part of the time.

Before this session, Aylin Maklansky had granted some exclusive time to the opponents, probably with CM Ramsey attending, but not mediator Zalkind. He stayed in the ante-room with us scrounging for water, which was hard to come by in City Hall that day.

That was okay. Private conversations with Council Members or the administration are normal. Ms Ramsey used to be a judge, but she is a politician now. I don’t know what was said, or what they could have said that could not be said in public. If it was some kind of sleazy thing they thought might put a greasy thumb on the scale, my thoughts would be: they picked the wrong Council Member. In my experience, Nadine Ramsey don’t play like that. Might have shot themselves in the foot.

There were about 20 or 25 opponents, some of them quite excitable, so the two of us didn’t get to speak much.  I think we had them outnumbered in one way, though, because when we and the development team spoke, we actually knew what we were talking about. As I opened with: I came to understand and appreciate their feelings, while becoming both more aware that a process had misled them to this point, and more than ever convinced that Sun Yard would be a good thing.

They had a touching faith in the CPC. District C Legislative Director Maklansky had tried to explain to them that the staff are pros, the Commissioners amateurs; that the Commission does not decide, it recommends, and that Council overrode the Commissioners all the time, but I don’t think it got through. One of them seemed to look heavenward with a Ste. Theresa smile as she softly said, “Unanimous.” I tried to tell them that Wedberg had  skidded right over the issues, that the others had followed him into a unanimous without reflection, possibly because even if all four were in support, it would still be “no recommendation.” They need five votes for a recommendation. But even when I am trying to give them information, they consider me the enemy. I got shouted down.

When staff and commissioners recommendations disagree, as in this case, Council chooses the one they think best. If you compare Wedberg’s speech to the staff report, you will quickly see which is stronger.

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Whose voices are valid?

Ms Michelle Fristoe, a strong member of the opposition group, posted a response to me and to  “The Bywater Herd” article. She got some facts wrong about my contact with the project, but that is not really significant. Ms Fristoe says that for me, this is just a hobby but for her as a near neighbor, Sun Yard will seriously affect her quality of life. The implication is that my voice, and I suppose that of Bywater Neighborhood Association, also in support – which means that at least a majority of its Zoning Committee and Directors are as well – have less value than hers and the other very near neighbors. I wonder about the fragile-culture-of-Bywater crowd – are they more important than me, the developers, the officers and members of BNA and any other citizens in support, too?

Ms Fristoe’s claim might also be interpreted to downgrade City Planning’s professional staff’s recommendation to approve, which followed careful analysis and was certainly approved by Executive Director Rivers, in comparison to Kyle Wedberg’s digression, because he lives in Bywater and validated their emotional opposition.

Please don’t think I am trying to put Ms Fristoe down. She seems like a very nice person. I like her. But this is another instance of hope and emotion over realism.

Weighting adjacent neighbors over wider-angle benefits is bad practice. The error zone that is NFB’s home ground.

All of these zoning and development issues which turn into conflict involve resolving or deciding on a divergence of interest between immediate neighbors and the wider interests of neighborhood and city, compounded by the fact that there is never a simple objective measure. The conflict is among humans, not slide rules, so opinion, belief, facts, errors, untruths and emotions come into it. Frequently, when the words “out of scale” start to appear, it is usually the opposing or resisting side that shoots off the top of the pressure scale.

Opposition to Habana Cafe at North Rampart and Esplanade turned into a circus of increasingly illogical accusations and hypotheticals. The Via Latrobe proposal at Press and Chartres brought out a lot of opponents, registering the familiar hypothetical claims about parking, traffic, “scale”, which they usually misuse, mass, people, the end of life, the universe and everything. As the conversation and investigation proceeds, it usually emerges that behind the public concerns that they voice, near neighbors are worried about their house’s next sale price. I am not so cynical as to say that that’s all there is, but distribution of asset value and cash flow on the block is a major player often kept behind the curtain. It came out in the second Sun Yard mediation meeting – but all in due course. We are still exploring.

Elisio Lofts at 501 Elysian Fields brought out the pitchforks big time. Its design was interesting. Mild modern, nothing to get Zaha Hadid worried, but one part of it was about 75 feet high. FMIA is allergic to heights.  They called out the battalions and went all bloodshot. Deploying the usual misused “out of scale” toolkit, the motivation of a rabidly activist president and a PR company whose CEO was both an HDLC commissioner and a member and former director of FMIA, they did manage a win against sensible development, which recently turned into an own goal when the site was bought for a Hampton Inn franchise, whose architects know how to bring a boring building in with the maximum number of unconditional requirements. We will soon have a non-residential building of architectural boredom added to an important streetscape, powered by unintended consequences. No additional residents, just more visitors near Frenchmen Street, The clubs will be happy.

The proposal for the Stateside hostel/hotel at Chartres and Mazant is just emerging from a Kafka-esque battlefield. Opposition included some determined but comically amateur acoustical analyses which they called “science,” some of which are being recycled for Sun Yard now. Opponents suggested martial law-like provisos that would have shut the block down like London in the Blitz. After losing in planning and the legislature, they launched a lawsuit and a series of appeals, all of which they lost for having no sound basis. Some of the Stateside opponents have joined in the ant-Sun Yard stampede. I wonder if opponenting might be turning into a sport. If so, they should consider a better coach, because they are still tanking up with hope instead of law and clarity.

I probably shouldn’t laugh, but one of the funniest opposition suggestions, put to the CP Commissioners with a straight face and for all I know taken seriously by the current bizarro Commission, was that Sun Yard should just be put on ice while Stateside, a mile away, finishes its final plans and building code, then gets built and operates for a while to see if it is successful – say four years from now. Amazing.

Opposition to Stateside was built with the same toolkit: scale, mass, traffic, people, residents v. “them,” music, noise, trash, alcohol, made-up scenarios of people throwing up off balconies while chugalugging PBR and beating on bongos. Maybe there is a book on it in some dark-web Amazon:  Oppose! A Tool Kit for Neighborhood Reactionaries and Property Protectors. Like the old American plague of white flight, it could be secretly sponsored by real estate brokers motivating people to move so they can get the listing.

Summing up:

What is the environment downriver of the train tracks going to look like?

What does better look like?

What was the long, expensive process to generate a vision and encode it in a Master Plan about, if progressive citizens sit on their hands and clam up every time a group of neighbors expresses property and change anxiety?

Does planning process intend that only the feelings, anxieties, concerns and preferences of immediate neighbors should be heard? Did the legislators intend the rest of us to step back and shut up? Is civic development somehow separate and distinct from specific developments and changes that are its components?

Would exclusion promote the the potential and heritage of the small city trying to be strong and grow that the Master Plan envisaged?

Or would privileging residential property protection be more likely to just generate a series of houses? Would that even be a real Master Plan, or just a nice story to tell ourselves as we wait our turn to tussle over our own resale values? Is that all there is?

I don’t buy it. Neither should you. Near neighbors’ interests may contrast or be in conflict with the larger canvas and longer range of architecture and urban planning. They can make their case, but they do not own the game.

“Scale”

In the opponent vocabulary, “scale” is used as a synonym for size. For a peaceful life, I will roll with it for a paragraph. The say the “scale” of Sun Yard is too big. Quick reminder: Sun Yard is  congruent with the Truck Farm.  Same size. Truck Farm operated as a single business under single ownership with a well-known common name for years, with the shotguns rented as apartments with shared use of the common space. At Chazfest, the whole space was used as a unit. It was sold together as a single package deal. It could have and maybe should have been re-subdivided into one unit years ago. Sun Yard will be a more intense and organized use of the space, but there is no significant change of “scale.”

Money! It divides but does it rule?

Here we go, Getting near the end now,

Toward the end of the second mediation meeting, the near-neighbor opponents put some more brass in their tacks: property values. Dum da dum dum. The wallet takes over from “scale” and all that other stuff. How many noted that this was a one-eighty from the frequently reiterated accusation that Sun Yard was in it just for money, while we the opponents are so pure, attempting to live lives of quiet virtue?

Well, that game was closing down. 

Ms Kiefer took the floor. She had an outline map that showed the Truck Farm/Sun Yard property with the split zoning part of the backyards highlighted. Her new offer was that if the Sun Yard would leave that area residential, they would withdraw opposition to the front half or two thirds being a hotel.

It’s a bad idea. It won’t make any difference to the houses, and leaves the awkward split in place. If I was Giuliano, I would say no. But I’m not, so that is up to him.

What interests me is that just a little over a week from Council, the adjoining neighbors are shearing off from the “culture” opponents. I suspect that it was the adjoining neighbors who launched the recruiting process that pulled in the cultural activists, petition writers and petition signers. They seeded The Bywater Herd. They motivated the script that says the Sun Yard on St Claude would extinguish Life As We Know It, Jim. It would drain the life out of the fragile Bywater Sanctuary. They inspired this fairy tale to multiply their numbers from about eight or ten to an agitated crowd behaving like hungry longhorns – and now they were throwing their allies, who they claim number in the hundreds, under the wheels of the Number 88 bus!

I was seeing this right before my eyes! I think I was getting it before those newly minted bus victims, quite a few of whom were in the room, caught on to what was happening to them. Except maybe one. Let’s call him David Quintron. He is tall, lean, congenial and easy to spot, but not so easy to pin down his name. His eyes narrowed under his cowboy hat. He spoke slowly and gently to Giuliano, saying he could see good will and possible solutions here. Good reflexes, David. Your chance to get off the dark side. But can you persuade that Pussycat?

Think I am wrong? Do you really believe that people signed petitions, held up signs and spoke at CPC just to defend any risk of slower appreciation of the resale price of six or seven houses? I don’t think so. That is not what they were recruited for.

Dum da dum dum.

Money, Part 2

A local real estate agent had given the opponents some reference on property values. Was she angling for a little property churn here, and some listings?

Far be it from me . . . .

The stuff has some points of interest. One of them related the impact of nearby commercial spots to their coolness. The cool factor. Coffee shops, restaurants, stylish bars can actually enhance residential prices about 14 to 30%, said the writer. So if Sun Yard gets a reputation as cool, the near neighbors pick up a win.

Another uses the term buffer. I think the neighbors relate that to the split zoning strip of the Truck Farm/Sun Yard. But it is not comparable, not in any way. The article compares pyramid to block zoning. This is vintage suburban green field development stuff. It means that between the shiny new industrial park and the new tracts of ranch houses and McMansions, you put the shopping center, with its supermarket anchor at one end and the department store and boutiques at the other end. Only the frontage road connects the three zones. No small streets connect them. Fire marshals generally force the frontage roads to be too wide and to have curved access for higher speed entry, since it is the only way for the new tract dwellers to get to the city for work. Since all the traffic has to use the one road, and volume means the planners want it to go fast, it generally gets a high accident toll. This is standard Americana, the blueprint of 50s to 70s suburbia, absolutely nothing to do with new urbanism or indeed any urban historic district where change is constrained by rules and built infrastructure.

So it is a coin toss whether Sun Yard will retard or accelerate the rate of the neighbors’ property price increase. I think it will be “cool” and they will benefit, but let’s say I am wrong and the average sale price of each of say ten houses ends up $50,000 short of max potential. That would be $500,000 of non-productive, immeuble asset money, realized over the average move cycle – maybe ten years.

From the wider community point of view, that has to be compared to the economic pump of the operating business – active, not immobilized money. If Sun Yard engages say 30 employees at an average of say $25,000, that is $750,000 of active input every year. That would be in addition to property tax, corporation tax and sales tax. In addition to purchases of materials, supplies and food. The building planned for a restaurant at no. 3000 will have the right – not conditional – to have live music. We have a lot of really good musicians around here. They need employment, too. If only weekends, that is another few hundred fueling the neighborhood every week.

If the near neighbors stay ten years before they sell and bank their hypothetical combined $500,000 loss, in that time Sun Yard would have redistributed into New Orleans well over $10 million (probably twice that) of active, circulating money. Money that buys food, kids’ clothes and pays tent.

Best net benefit. Jeremy Bentham.

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Principles. I have some.

  • The planning process gives us the right to comment on and try to guide a project toward minimum harm and maximum community benefit.
  • The process has value. It can be stressful and costly but sometimes results not just in compromise but in real improvement,
  • It does not give us the right to suppress or disable a legal, properly founded business.  

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Epilogue

These bad-dream oppositions keep happening. Somebody is giving project opponents bad advice. At this end of the city, is it NFB? I don’t know. In any case, opponents should let go of the crazy stuff.

They should come to BNA and Mary Ann Hammett for realistic advice on the best balance and the best deal for them. They should listen to Mary Ann and maybe Sean Cummings – not when he is selling a project, that is another process, but when he talks about sensitive development and city planning best practices. Even ask me to start with, because I learn from them.  

In these wasteful zoning wars, some near neighbors get distressed at something happening, get on the megaphone and before you know it, the mechanisms of emotional reinforcement, fear enhancement and panic are on the case. What the worried people turning into opponents don’t get is that the reactionary NAs like NFB are always wrong. I have never seen them be right about anything.

Example: the panic mode is how they ended up with a fuss about trash. I might get a few details wrong, but as I understand it, Sun Yard thought trash should be picked up on Montegut St. The Montegut neighbors didn’t like that. Somebody of the intensifying opponentry called DPW or Sanitation or maybe just 311 and asked if hotel trash could be collected on St Claude. Reply: Why not?

Next step: a big Geschrei, Giuliano is a liar and the honest yeoman homeowners can’t trust anybody because the evil developers are intent on trashing out Montegut. Without even a look at my hole cards, I would bet an orange popsicle that nobody lied and nobody cared much which street the bin truck picked up on. It was just part of the process of getting there.

What a waste of adrenaline. I’ll bet another popsicle, let’s make it cherry this time, that if they had discussed their trash street thing to BNA zoning, Mary Ann or one of the architect could have made one or two phone calls and the whole thing would have been resolved quietly in ten minutes with no breast beating, no mediation required. Future opponents: pick your friends more carefully.

Okay. NOLAscape out.

Bob Freilich

© NOLAscape April 2018

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The Bywater Herd

We form groups and teams and gangs for an infinity of reasons. For defence. To build. To destroy. For community service. To play sports. Leaders form and manipulate armies and gangs.

The herd that has been formed in Bywater and will charge into the Council Chamber on April 19th seems designed to amplify group anxiety and channel it toward imagined objectives that serve the purposes of a few people. The people that seeded it were either very lucky or very clever. He, she or they understood that anxiously protecting the backyards of a very few seldom stands up to the wider interests of the neighborhood and the city. They needed more cattle to follow their hat. They – I’ll use “they” though it is possible that the origin was singular – spotted or lucked into a substantial local demographic metamorphosing into its age of anxiety, putting down their time of adventure to settle into their time of defense. They picked their lieutenants well. They plucked the right notes of vanity and fear.

I wonder if they consciously modeled Trump, a chaos junkie and a “clinic on incompetence”, but skilled in anxiety manipulation. In Trumpism, truth is of no account. You just say that crime is skyrocketing, Muslims are killing everybody, Mexicans are raping the survivors and refugee caravans from Honduras are coming to steal your jobs.  People with the hypersensitive amygdala associated with conservatism and gun-nuttery huddle up. Reason succumbs to older layers of evolution.

Maybe those back-brain molecular pulses spike at a certain age. Maybe herd forming is a psycho-physical process that can be synchronized, like yawning.

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The Bywater herd is going to stage a stampede at City Council soon – on April 19th, Anno Domini 2018. Wrestlemania will have moved on. If you don’t have tickets to a boxing match or a cock fight, come out to City Hall. Bring snacks, in case it is a long day.

A popcorn and hot dog pop-up just outside the Council Chamber door would make a mint.

Main event on the fight card will be The New Bywater Buffalo Herd vs. The Sun Yard.

Sigmund Freud on the Herd Instinct:

It might be said that the intense emotional ties which we observe in groups are quite sufficient to explain one of their characteristics—the lack of independence and initiative in their members, the similarity in the reactions of all of them, their reduction, so to speak, to the level of group individuals

Some of its features—the weakness of intellectual ability, the lack of emotional restraint, the incapacity for moderation and delay, the inclination to exceed every limit in the expression of emotion and to work it off completely in the form of action . . . show an unmistakable picture of a regression of mental activity to an earlier stage such as we are not surprised to find among savages or children. . . .

The influence of suggestion becomes a greater riddle for us when we admit that it is not exercised only by the leader, but by every individual upon every other individual; and we must reproach ourselves with having unfairly emphasized the relation to the leader and with having kept the other factor of mutual suggestion too much in the background.

Sigmund Freud.  Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.  1922.  Chapter 9.

I am going to avoid naming names, mostly, because I consider some of the herd people friends. I hope I still can when this is over, but you never know. They are taking themselves very seriously. They are allowing themselves to amplify and act as weapons for the personal property protection of a very small number of alpha cattle, and they will not want to look at that uncomfortable idea.

The Bywater Herd is out to stampede a project called the Sun Yard. In contrast to the various “anti” movements we have seen in the downriver neighborhoods over the past few years, this newest configuration has some interesting characteristics.

Demographically, the new herd is younger than earlier opponent groupings. The crowds that opposed Via Latrobe on Press Street and Stateside at Mazant and Chartres tended to look and sound old. Their herds moved more slowly. Stampede might have been a medical risk. Their leaders spoke deliberately, trying to sound reasonable, even when they had no facts that could pass a Snopes test and nothing that could pass for logic, or even law. They were property protectors, more worried about a free parking space in front of their house or the tranquility of the rocking chairs on their front porches than the evolution of the city. They were anxious about an invasion of new, younger people engaged in non-traditional businesses like online gaming, internet security or even hacking. People whose lifestyles they did not understand. People who might be . . . you know . . . not just like us.

In the Sun Yard stampede, we are seeing a younger demo ripening into middle-aged conservative property protectors but still capable of snorting and pawing the ground. Among them a few of the old guard are joining in, but they look out of place. Some who used to pass as New Urbanists and Smart Growth advocates, who attended and applauded talks by Andrés Duany and other planners who tried to teach us how cities work, but then quickly joined the hive mind of the ruminating, rocking chair, old herd when Stateside came to their backyards, have joined this faster-tempo, younger demo, telling themselves that Liz Solms and Giuliano Pignataro’s Sun Yard project will end the life and culture of Bywater. There may be life after Sun Yard, Jim, but not as we know it.

Some of these anti-life veterans may speak at council. You can tell which ones they are by a pseudoscientific layer of fluff about sound and music they coat their snarling rejection with. Mostly amateur stuff, fear with a thin coating of physics terms.

Mark Gonzalez of Neighbors First will almost certainly be there to offend reason and annoy the Council. You have to admire his pluck. At Sun Yard NPPs and City Planning, Gonzalez boldly chose to say silly things, largely made up, recently adding insult to his repertoire of unreason. I don’t mind offensive speech if it has some wit in it, but he really should get better before he takes his act public. He usually manages to get positioned late in the speaker list, avoiding rebuttal of his lame Don Rickles tribute act. Perhaps Council Members will read this and make sure that he is on the microphone before me, so I can have a go at helping his efforts to look ridiculous.

A goodly few of the rest will go on about a mythical “creative” mystique that infuses Bywater like a sweet-smelling seductive swamp gas. They don’t think the creative pretensions of the neighborhood are in its residents, who may be really or just pretentiously creative. They seem to be telling us that the muses’ breath has been absorbed into the cypress cladding and cracked streets so you can catch it by moving in (as long as Sun Yard does not exist) – and by syncing with the rhythm of the herd to keep others out.

The heifers and bulls and steers in the Bywater herd at Council on April 19th, holding up their synchronized signs and joining together in communal outcry, will not see themselves as units filling out the numbers in a herd assembled by a few property protectors. They will not want to believe that they have been subtly recruited for the purpose of joining in tactical stampedes by a few adjoining owners who have had this plan on simmer since at least 2016, who craftily recruited a few influential musicians and artists to spread the fashionable word.

The ringleaders want tranquility and no change. They solemnly announce that among the rights granted by the grace of St Claude is the guarantee that his eponymous Avenue will remain forever just as it was when they put the down payment on their houses. They want it to be as quiet as Metairie or a genteel stretch of Lower Garden – but they don’t want to live in those places. Oh no – because when you live on a quiet block of Laurel Street instead of North Rampart, you might just be a personal injury lawyer or a pet store owner. You don’t pick up any of that creative cachet that sticks to your natural fiber clothing from living or working on North Rampart on the downriver side of Press Street (Homer Plessy Way since yesterday, in case you didn’t know).

All you unfortunate readers who live in less creative neighborhoods, know now that by decree of The Herd, ye are forever lesser. You partake not of the sacred “culture” of Bywater – while it may last, for it is a culture so fragile, so ephemeral, so precious, that it will evaporate into evanescent dust if a modestly sized business called Sun Yard opens on St Claude Avenue. In fact, I think I might start the first draft of the History of Old Bywater before it joins Atlantis in the mists of time.

The Sun Yard is a displacer, says the Herd – 99% white, middle class, relatively well-off owners of gentrified property, several times appreciated in dollar value since they bought them. I don’t think they like to discuss how they became the owners of the land that was inhabited not so long ago to over double current density by a 65% African American working class wage earning majority, now dispersed to lower cost neighborhoods by de-industrialization and the processes of urban evolution – the processes that make most of us at times displacers and at others, displaced. The herd stalwarts speaking at Council are no less displacers than their target. For such, friends, herd members and free people both – such is life in cities. Since Harappa, Ugarit, Athens, Rome, Lutetia, Londinium, Bombay and Peking – that’s life – as we do know it, Jim.

From this NOLAscape herd of mostly one: I like Bywater. I kind-of live in it. Holy ground that bestows creativity with the last four digits of its zip code? Give me a break. So fragile that it will be fractured by the Truck Farm transforming to the Sun Yard – come on.

Are they really going to look at our City Council members and say that with a straight face?

They got away with it at City Planning largely because Kyle Wedberg, principal of NOCCA, is a leading Commissioner who repeatedly exhibits bias when Bywater is on the agenda. Wedberg seems to be an excellent leader of NOCCA, who as a Commissioner – is an excellent leader of NOCCA. He lives in Bywater and works at one of its best edges, directing one of New Orleans’ finest institutions. His bias in zoning matters is so strong and visible that he really should recuse himself – but he doesn’t. He tugs CPC toward the outcome that suits himself and friends. I am not hinting at corruption. I don’t for a minute doubt that Wedberg thinks he is doing the right thing. But he transparently mixes the personal with the civic. He should not be a Planning Commissioner at all, or at the very least, pending replacement, should be recused from anything to do with Marigny and Bywater.

Our current City Council, though, is made of tougher stuff.

Some of the Sun Yard opponents at Council will bring in the industrial STR plague. They are right to oppose it. They will attack AirBnB, under banner of which absentee owners have bought hundreds of residential properties and turned them into unregulated hotels that remove residential space from the market. They blame rising rents on STR, unproven but possibly true – then step away from reason trying to associate small hotels with it. While I agree with them that STR needs radical reduction and much better law and limits, they are selling a false but persistent equivalence. I heard it at Council yesterday about another small hotel project, that Lower Garden and Coliseum neighborhood associations objected to, accompanied by their leader or lobbyist Michelle Landrieu, sister of the Mayor and board member of Covenant House, therefore associate of the egregious Jim Kelly, head of Covenant and for New Orleans a truly malignant influence.  

In fact, small hotels have an interest to oppose industrial scale STR. Sun Yard will be a stronger advocate for better STR containment law than the herd will be. If they really want more residential accommodation in Bywater and Marigny, they would do better to cultivate Sun Yard than oppose it.  

The herd scares off independent, fair support for the Sun Yard project. The normal Bywaterite is reluctant to stand in front of the stampede. Her friends are out there in the thick of the buffalo charge. She doesn’t do this kind of thing for a living or a hobby. She doesn’t want to do battle against her inflamed neighbors, and even less to be criticized or shunned by friends and neighbors when the dust settles. Unherded citizens understand that whether Sun Yard is there or not will make no difference whatsoever to their lives, and no significant difference to the neighborhood, except possibly to offer a nice new place that they might want to have a meal, a drink or a swim in. Or not – we all get to choose. So they leave the field open for the stampede.

So sadly the normal people of Bywater (note homage to “the plain people of Ireland,” ennobled by Flann O’Brien) in the event that they have even heard of this battle, are very unlikely to stand against the stampede at City Council. It takes the broader, clearer vision of the Bywater Neighborhood Association and the odd ones out (like me), constrained by a cracked Quixotic oath, to stand at the annoying Mickey Mouse microphone Council provides for public speakers, to stare down the bloodshot rage and printed signs, risking a sound trampling by the snorting, snarling herd pawing its sanctified ground.

In optimistic moments, few and far between, I think an article like this might encourage a few more people to face the civic legislature with the herd behind them, signs aloft, to speak some reason on either side. But reason is a red rag to the herd. They will just print another clenched fist sign, to counter sense with symbol, trying to link some simple, local, private backyard protectionism to important social movements.

May I offer a short shot of reality? Sun Yard will be okay. The owners are going to face-lift the properties, which need it. For me, that comes first by a long old chalk. Land use is secondary. If the first business of Sun Yard doesn’t work, they will adjust or fine-tune until they get as close as they can to a good thing. If they can’t make it work, they will sell up, and somebody else’s vision will take over. Ecce homo, and what’s new? More important by far is our physical environment. Fifteen years from now, the imaginary fragile culture that The Herd is writing prayers about won’t even be a memory. It will be hard to find mention of it in the archives. But if the renovation to the properties is done well, the neighborhood will indeed be and remain lifted up a notch. That counts.

Tell The Herd: I am saddling up for cowboy work.

6 April 2018

© NOLAscape April 2018

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