Suit filed to help protect French Quarter from out of scale development
Save the French Quarter: Protect the Master Plan
French Quarter Citizens Inc., the Louisiana Landmarks Society, Smart Growth for Louisiana, the Preservation Resource Center, the Vieux Carré Property Owners and Residents and Associates, (VCPORA) along with three individual French Quarter residents and/or business owners filed for a preliminary injunction in Civil District Court today to stop the New Orleans City Council from further action in approving the development of a high-rise hotel, known as the Royal Cosmopolitan, located at 121 Royal Street.
The City Council approved a conditional use and waiver of height restrictions for the project, which the litigants claim is in violation of City Charter Sections 5-404(3)(c), 5-406 (i.e. the Master Plan), and the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) 16.6.4. and 16.6.5.
Pending trial, the named plaintiffs, including residents, business owners, preservation organizations and neighborhood advocacy groups will also ask the Court for a declaratory judgment that, as a matter of law, the Council’s recent approval of this project is in violation of the Master Plan and therefore null and void. Such an order from the Court would prevent the Royal Cosmopolitan zoning proposal from going forward in its current state.
“The project is not consistent with its land use designation in the Master Plan, which has the force of law. Nor is it consistent with the Master Plan’s historic preservation chapter,” said Sandra Stokes, Chair of Advocacy for Louisiana Landmarks Society. “The variances required are extraordinary. There are no special circumstances that are particular to the property to justify this kind of exceptionality. Moving forward with this project despite it being in direct and clear violation of the Master Plan is not only illegal, but would set a precedent that would render the Master Plan and recently adopted CZO effectively obsolete.”
According to the lawsuit, protection and preservation of the Historic Vieux Carré is mandated by the State Constitution, and even the Louisiana Supreme Court has noted the importance of preserving the quaint and historic character of New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods as the foundation of the City’s economic engine. The New Orleans City Planning Commission recommended the Royal Cosmopolitan project be denied for many of these same reasons, and last year, the Louisiana Landmarks Society put the New Orleans Master Plan on its “Nine Most Endangered List”.
“The City Council acted arbitrarily and capriciously, ignoring the law and the recommendations of its own planning body to approve a development which, according to the city’s own City Planning Commission, would have a negative impact on adjacent land uses and would substantially alter the character of this portion of the French Quarter, which is essentially the entrance to the Historic Vieux Carré,” the lawsuit states.
The Council majority acted on Nov. 5, 2015 to approve the out-of-scale 190-foot hotel, with only At Large Member Stacy Head and District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry opposing. The project is located in Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s District, which includes the French Quarter.
“This is a high rise in the middle of a block – in a National Register Historic District,” said Peter Trapolin, architect. “It will be disastrous during the construction period, blocking Royal Street traffic and businesses for close to two years. There is no access to even get material to the site. You will have to either hoist it over the existing buildings – or drag it through the front door of the historic hotel. And once built, every bar of soap, every piece of laundry, every delivery and service truck will have to stop on Royal Street– since there is no parking and no loading.”
Litigants claim the City Council must respect the city’s Master Plan’s force-of-law provisions regarding existing height, scale, density, and character of a neighborhood. According to the City Charter, the City Council’s approval is null and void because “[any zoning ordinance or amendment adopted by the Council must be consistent with the Master Plan. Inconsistent ordinances and amendments shall be null and void as provided by Section 5-404(3)(c).”
“Although there are examples of a few tower hotels within the district, these hotels are exceptions to the norm, built in the 1970s and 80s, and do not reflect the current context in which the goals of the Master Plan were established. The development proposal is inconsistent with the site’s Mixed Use Downtown future land use designation, which requires new development to be sensitive and appropriate when situated near or within historic districts,” said Carol Gniady, French Quarter Citizens.
Furthermore, the approval of the conditional use and waiver of the height restriction exceeds the authority granted to the City Council under the CZO because the City Council waiver failed to address and meet the required benchmarks in the law required to grant the conditional use and the waiver of the height restrictions, argues the suit. The City Planning Commission noted such in its Reasons for Recommendation for Denial:
- The proposed tower is excessive, out-of-scale, and fundamentally incompatible with its surroundings. The site is located in a portion of Canal Street where building height is limited to 70 feet in order to ensure that new construction respects the scale and character of this historic commercial corridor comprised predominantly of four (4) to six (6) story buildings.
- The waiver of the Central Business District Height and Floor Area Ratio Interim Zoning District’s height limit cannot be justified. The request does not fulfill any of the three (3) standards for waivers of Interim Zoning Districts, as contained in Article 16, Section 16.4.5 of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. The proposal is inconsistent with the general intent of the IZD.
- The proposal is inconsistent with the Master Plan. The tower addition does not relate to the predominant development form of the area nor is it even at all sensitive to the architectural aesthetic of the Canal Street and Vieux Carré districts. The proposal is also not consistent with the Master Plan’s historic preservation chapter, which emphasizes the importance of historic structures in giving the city its character and linking its identity with its cultural heritage.
“The purpose of the Master Plan was to eliminate the kind of ad hoc, special-interest-driven decision making that we are seeing with this development,” said attorney William Borah, President of Smart Growth for Louisiana. “The citizens of New Orleans spent years amending the City Charter and creating a Master Plan to provide predictability, with a clear set of rules that everyone was required to follow.
“Yet here we are, only three months since the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance was implemented – a zoning ordinance required to be consistent with the Master Plan — and already the City Council is breaking its own set of rules to appease a particular developer. Simply put, the Royal Cosmopolitan proposal is not consistent with the Master Plan and is in clear violation of the new zoning ordinance. The Master Plan, which has the force of law, was voted in by citizens to prevent just this type of egregious behavior. Thus, we now turn to the court,” said Mr. Borah.
Added Architect Trapolin, “There is nothing unique about this property that warrants the type of variances required. And there is no going backwards from this mistake. This project will irreparably harm the French Quarter for the rest of eternity. It is simply the wrong project in the wrong place.”
Contact Justin Winch (504) 593-9600 or Devin Johnson (504) 897-6110