Lakefront residents oppose potential commercial uses of shelters 1 and 2
The Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority has filed a request to the City Planning Commission to establish restaurant, live entertainment, and retail uses at the Shelter House No. 1 and Shelter House No. 2 facilities. The request to amend currently established uses in the Lake Area Neighborhood Park District are restricted to only the shelter facilities, so none of these uses may be developed in other areas within the district.
Shelter No. 1 was previously leased out to developer William Wright for a seafood boil house and coffee shop. According to WWL, Wright will temporarily be operating the restaurant with a special events license and a limited menu starting Friday, May 19, while plans for Shelter No. 2 are a part gym and part restaurant–although the lease for the property is still being arranged.
According to Non-Flood officials, Wright could opt out of his lease with Shelter No. 1 if the city denies the request and he can’t pertain the permits to operate the coffeehouse and restaurant as proposed. The Authority said that they submitted a request for the zoning amendment after Wright approached the city to operate a restaurant facility at Shelter No. 1 but was denied.
The City Planning Commission stated in their staff report that both shelters are historic W.P.A. structures on Lakeshore Drive that could appropriately be reinstated for commercial use, but the staff found two reasons why the means for legalizing commercial use at the shelters may be unacceptable.
The proposed amendment both creates special rules for specific properties and it also would create an unprecedented method for that practice, according to City Planning. The request also does not meet the Historic Non-Conforming Use Policy because of the property’s use of shelters, rather than types of non-residential structures that the policy identifies.
The staff’s preferred solution is to either rezone all or some portions of the Lakefront property that the Levee District owns or to add the proposed uses by the Authority as conditional uses within the Lake Area Neighborhood Park District. Although, City Planning acknowledged that if the proposed uses are labeled conditional uses, conflict may arise with the district’s original intent to “provide for small neighborhood-scale passive open space and recreational areas intended to complement existing residential neighborhoods or transportation corridors.”
The City Planning Commission received eight letters in opposition to the proposed zoning changes for the shelters and no letters in support of the changes. Monte Shalett, President of the Lake Vista Property Owners Association, said in their letter that the association is currently withholding their opinion.
Jesse Noel, the executive director of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority, also previously attended the meetings of multiple Lakefront neighborhoods to express the organization’s intent to restore Shelter No. 1 and Shelter No. 2 to operation, which would return the facilities’ public bathrooms, as well as provide a commercial authority on the lake.
Concerns from Lakefront residents about potential zoning changes for both shelters include the following:
- Live music and the sale of alcohol will be disruptive to Lakeshore Drive and to nearby residents.
- Parking capacities on the Lakefront will result in restaurant patrons parking in the Lakeshore neighborhood.
- The “spot zoning” of the two shelters will change the historic use and character of the park facilities, depriving the general public from their use.
- The Orleans Levee Board police are already undermanned to provide protection on the Lakefront.
Robert Lupo, a Lake Vista resident for over 63 years and a former chairman of the Orleans Levee District Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority from 2010-2013, said in his opposition letter that the Lakefront has served residents as a “passive, family-oriented” location for five generations.
“Families of all demographics enjoy the peaceful, non-commercial aspects of this serene environment,” Lupo said. “It will never be appropriate to spot zone a portion of this award winning design.”
The City Planning meeting will take place at 1:30 p.m. in the council chambers on Tuesday, May 29, but the staff recommends deferring the zoning docket item until the June 27 City Planning Commission to have more time for discussion of an alternative means to commercialize Shelter No. 1 and Shelter No. 2.