South Carrollton/South Claiborne Walgreen's Redevelopment: One Neighborhood Citizen's Thoughts
A week and a half ago (28 June 2006), New Orleans City Council District A Councilperson Shelley Midura conducted a "town meeting" at the City Hall Council Chambers to address the proposed South Carrollton/South Claiborne Walgreen's-centered redevelopment. About fifty or so citizens were in attendance at this third such meeting and about twenty or so took the opportunity to air their views of the proposed project to those in attendance. Surprisingly, no Walgreen's representatives or lawyers nor the developer was at this meeting--or at least none of these if in attendance took the opportunity to present their opinions. The majority of those Orleanians that spoke were in opposition to the granting of the zoning variance and in opposition to the Walgreen's site plan currently under consideration. Those that did speak in favor of the zoning variance concentrated from the Fountainbleau neighborhood and their sentiment all echoed the same: they are dissatisfied with the abandoned and blighted property currently at the site and just want something productive--anything--to be redeveloped at such a key intersection within New Orleans. They just want the eyesore that has festered there for over seven years along with the related negative side effects (or perception of) of such blight to go away.
I agree with them completely--I want that blighted property made history as well and for the site to become commercially productive again (in shopping convenience for us residents of the Carrollton/Fountainbleau neighborhoods and for tax revenue and job generation for the City of New Orleans), but not at the cost of letting Walgreen's build whatever they want, how they want, not following the rules of a very carefully created overlay zoning district. The impetus--in my opinion--should be a grocery store at that site, not yet another Walgreen's--a corporation I don't think has done anything in the past in New Orleans to warrant giving an inch to. I'm wandering . . . the next post to address the "dangling carrot" of the grocery store strategy part of the story. To the point of this posting:
Scott Andrews lives several blocks lakeside from the site. He spoke in opposition to the current site plan and the possible granting of a zoning variance by the City Council. I thought he very effectively and passionately worded his concerns and his reasoning for his convictions on this matter. Courtesy of a word document via email from Scott, here's what he said:
"Having sat through and having participated in three town hall style meetings in two weeks, it is now time for all of us to sit back and analyze the information we have been presented with, both from the developers, and from the citizens of the neighborhoods that border and include the site in question.
On one side we have a developer, who has built a number of Walgreen's in the city, with various levels of success, and his attorney, who ironically is on the Garden District Association's Zoning Committee, dictating to the citizens of four different neighborhoods. They have presented a plan for a strategically prominent block, in a historic neighborhood, at the end of a historic streetcar line, across from a historic public park that breaks the zoning laws of the city, that does not respond to the surrounding architectural fabric of the neighborhoods it claims to want to serve, and looks like any other Walgreen's site one might find in suburbia (which is the antithesis of this site). They claim that their reason for requesting the variance is to allow for a grocery store which some people in the neighborhood want somewhere in their neighborhood. This despite the fact that the grocery store has not secured a lease for the site, has not secured licensing for their store, has not applied to the city for the numerous variances required to lawfully build on the site, and has not responded to the numerous concerns that citizens of the neighborhood have about the parking patterns on the site, these being the disproportionate amount of parking Walgreen's has on the site as compared to the grocery store, the two-way traffic pattern that separates the grocery from the Walgreen's and cuts across the block (which will hinder shoppers crossing from the Walgreen's lot on the corner to the grocery store site), or the partial annexation of a residential block for employee parking.
I have shown the site plan to numerous disinterested parties, both architects and layperson alike, and all have had the same reaction: "Who in their right mind would build a grocery store at the back of a lot, behind a Walgreen's, with little or no accessible parking?" They also, given the anonymity of the site plan, invariably ask "Where is this being proposed?", assuming it is a suburban site plan. When I tell them where it is, they are floored.
On the other side you have two sets of neighbors. Everyone that lives in the neighborhood is sick and tired of looking at the blight that has inhabited that corner for the last six years. That is a given and is universally shared. A large part of the responsibility for that must rest with the leaseholder of the property--Walgreen's. One group of neighbors is fed up with the blight, and sees a capitulation to the developer as their only chance to rid the block of the blight, and to maybe get a grocery store. I do not question their desire for a grocery store somewhere in the neighborhood, only the price they are willing to pay for it.The other, and may I opine the larger, group of neighbors realizes the significance of the Carrollton Overlay Zone to both their interests in the neighborhood and the interests of the city at large, and wants the setback rules of the overlay respected. I am in the latter category.
There is actually a third party involved in this as well. These are our neighbors in Mid City. It is no accident that representatives of Mid City have been at both meetings. They are watching the outcome of this, and will fight as hard, if not harder to protect the Carrollton Overlay in their area--it happened at the Sav-A-Center on Carrrollton, and will continue to be fought for.
This is the first major commercial development to be proposed in a flooded neighborhood on Carrollton Avenue since Hurricane Katrina. If we as a community allow the Overlay to be ignored by this developer in this instance, we will have to deal with this issue again and again each time a developer wants to put a parking lot in front of their establishment anywhere on Carrollton from the Riverbend to City Park. If we capitulate in this instance, we will not have a leg to stand on the next time a setback variance is proposed in the Carrollton Overlay.
Do not interpret this to mean that we as neighborhoods are intractable and anti-development. That is a too simplistic view to have on a very complicated matter. The development of this corner could be accomplished, with a little ingenuity and site design "know how", with a design solution that incorporates both a Walgreen's and a grocery store, and that follows the zoning setback laws of the Carrollton Overlay. The problem is that we are dealing with a developer whose attitude is "it's my way or the highway" or in this instance, continued blight.
I would personally like to thank Councilperson Midura, for her hard work on and dedication to this matter. We look forward to working with the City Hall in the next four years to make our neighborhood and indeed all neighborhoods in the city places that we are truly proud to call home."
Very well said, Scott. The bolding above is my emphasis. The grocery store hasn't secured a lease . . . Hasn't secured licensing . . . Hasn't applied for the variances they need . . . Hmmmmmmm. Those small technical details seem important, do they not????
I harbor no ill feelings towards those from Foutainbleau that came up to the podium and speak in favor of the project "as-is." Nearly all of them spoke with complete conviction and I know care, love, and value New Orleans as much as I and the others opposed to this "plop and drop" proposal do. Heck, they didn't bail on New Orleans post-KTMB--they want to be here. I think they've just been beaten down by the rotting shell the former National/Canal Villerie and K&B/Rite Aid has very purposely become over the last seven years. They are tired about talking about it. By unifiying together in oppostition of this site plan and forcing a working, to code, design solution, the Carrollton/Fountainbleau neighborhoods, Walgreen's, and (Insert Grocery Store Here) can all win. But in order for this to happen, our political leadership--the City Council--and the City Planning Commission--must be the ones to physically foster it.
TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Walgreens, Shelley Midura, Carrollton, Urban Planning