City Planning defers proposal for commercial uses of Shelter Houses
While looking to other alternatives in the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority’s request to establish new commercial uses for Shelter House facilities 1 and 2, The City Planning Commission has decided to continue its recommendation of deferral.
The City Planning meeting held on Tuesday (May 25) featured a number of speakers in both support and opposition of the request to amend the established uses in the Lake Area Neighborhood Park District. Shelter No. 1 is leased for a seafood boil house and coffeehouse, while Shelter No. 2 could potentially house a personal training company’s gym.
Ron Karen, a supporter of the Shelter No. 1 restaurant venture and an acquaintance of the owner of Shelter No. 1 since childhood, took the floor first. Karen lives in the Lake Vista neighborhood.
“I’ve seen the project, as it has progressed with the building at Shelter 1, and I think it would enliven the area,” Karen said.
Rodger Wheaton, the Non-Flood chairman of the recreation committee, followed Karen.
“We were very interested in bringing Shelters 1 and 2 back,” Wheaton said. “Right now they’re blighted property. They were somewhat renovated by FEMA post-Katrina, but then they were vandalized.”
Wheaton explained that the redevelopment of the Lakefront has been popular, but that the movement has lacked public bathroom access. He said that as an organization, the Authority did not feel they had the personnel or resources to open the shelter facilities and “more importantly, maintain them.”
“We entered into a lease on shelter 1,” Wheaton said. “We got a request for proposals on shelter 2.”
Wheaton started to discuss meeting with neighborhood groups from Lake Terrace, Lake Vista, and Lakeshore to come up with a solution for Shelters 1 and 2, but was stopped for going over his speaking time.
Ron Walker, who was signed up to speak in support of commercial use of Shelters 1 and 2, gave Wheaton the rest of his two minutes so the commissioner could continue speaking.
“We’ve now determined that the text amendment has now ruffled the feathers of the CPC and now the neighborhood,” Wheaton said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re specifically trying to bring these shelters back online.”
According to Wheaton, the deferral process advised by City Planning was to give the Non-Flood officials an opportunity to develop a better process for seeking a conditional use permit. Robert Rivers, executive director of the City Planning Commission, clarified with Wheaton that Non-Flood Authority would like to withdraw the proposed amendment.
After Commissioner Kelly Brown of City Planning questioned what the use would be of deferring the application, City Planning decided that a new application would be required with Non-Flood requesting a text amendment that would instead create a conditional use for certain uses.
Leilani Heno, who lives on the 7000 block of Canal Boulevard, spoke in front of City Planning next and said that she would be in charge of Shelter No .2 if commercial use is permitted. Heno owns X-Trainers, a personal training company that focuses on fitness and healthy eating.
Heno said her plans for Shelter 2 will go along with the recreational intent for the building through having an outdoor gym.
“A lot of people don’t really understand that the Lakefront attracts national recognition because every national race that comes through the city goes along through the entire city, so that they can view the city,” Heno said. “And the best leg of every race, especially the triathlon, is along the Lakefront.”
Heno described tourists seeing blighted shelters and portable bathrooms, so her goal is to take on that crowd and develop Shelter No. 2. She said many of the X-Trainers fitness adventures take place around Shelter No. 2 and the Lakefront, but on the weekends the group is more frequently going to City Park due to the Lakefront area becoming dangerous.
“I believe it is because there’s no presence there, not that I’m a police, and I don’t want that role in any shape or form,” Heno said. “But if there’s a presence there, we can at least continue what we’re doing now, even if this doesn’t happen.”
Jesse Noel, executive director of the Non-Flood Authority, spoke after Heno and said that the organization is in agreement with the deferral recommendation given by City Planning.
“We’d like to work with (City Planning) staff to craft better language that’s more in line with what the CZO requires, as well as in agreement with what the community groups would like,” Noel said.
Next, William Wright, the lease holder for Shelter No. 1, spoke to City Planning about renovating the property for the last two weeks. Wright is trying to develop a coffeehouse and seafood restaurant called Billy Wright’s Old New Orleans Boil House.
“When we first signed the lease for the place, it was metal rot everywhere,” Wright said.
Wright said that the state they found the shelter in was because of neglect and no presence being out there. He said his restaurant will be similar to the Maggie & Smitty’s on the West End prior to Hurricane Katrina, and that it will serve breakfast and be family-friendly.
Monte C. Shalett spoke in opposition to the Non-Flood proposal with eight full minutes granted to him by three other citizens conceding their time. As their president, he spoke on behalf of the Lake Vista Property Association.
“We had concerns when the Authority asked for text changes that would permit five uses which historically have never been part of these shelters,” Shalett said.
Shalett addressed comments in the staff report and said that these are “passive parks,” with selling alcohol and other uses having never been associated with these facilities.
Wheaton countered the statement, explaining that the proposed uses for the shelters would cover potential plans for bike rentals, a farmer’s market, and a coffeehouse.
“I think maybe the way we did it with the text amendment was in-artful, so we’re willing to go back and work, but it’s an attempt to actually put a responsible tenant out there and get control of that area.”
After hearing from all speakers, the City Planning Commission said they met with Non-flood officials the morning prior to the council chambers meeting to specifically discuss a conditional use possibility with a new application. Commissioner Brown of City Planning said that she would rather the staff deny the application, but the motion was not seconded.
The City Planning Commission unanimously passed a motion to defer the Non-Flood zoning proposal until June 27. The Non-Flood Authority plans to present a new application at that time.