South Carrollton/South Claiborne Walgreen's Redevelopment: T-Minus Two Days Until Issue Back Before New Orleans City Council Again . . .
Nearly two weeks ago the New Orleans City Council vote on the requested zoning variance for the proposed Walgreen's redevelopment at South Carrollton/South Claiborne was deferred upon request of District A Councilperson Shelley Midura. Ms. Midura gave an impassioned plea to Walgreen's, their developer, and their legal counsel to come back to the council with a compromised/alternative design that conformed with the Carrollton Avenue Overlay Zone and one that also legally assured the grocery store component of the redevelopment (which they currently lack--but you purposely wouldn't know that from their site plan handout). Additionally, Ms. Midura instructed them to come together with the adjacent neighborhoods to foster what she categorized a "win-win" solution. With two days remaining before the issue is set to before the City Council again on the 3rd of August, Walgreen's and their local representatives have--to my knowledge (and correct me if I am misinformed)--made absolutely no effort to cultivate any community involvement . . . . And since the deferral, has Team Walgreen's been working with Mr. Robert and Mr. Pivoch (sp?) to get the land/lease issues ironed out?
It is my understanding that instead of following Ms. Midura's instructions, Team Walgreen's approach is to work around her request by playing a little hardball with the other City Council representatives coercing a majority vote in favor of the proposed zoning variance. In my opinion, Walgreen's has absolutely no intention of any compromise despite Ms. Midura's good-faith negotiations. Nearly to the level of contempt Walgreen's appears to be indifferent to the wants, the expectations, or the desires of the adjacent neighborhoods.
Here is a hypothetical example of above-mentioned "hardball," but in an alterno-world New Orleans--unfortunately a New Orleans also flooded by a failed federal flood protection system. Let's say within City Council District X languishes several still-shuttered, flooded-out Floorblue's Drug Stores. District X's councilperson desperately wants at least one or two of the stores to re-open to offer the district's rebuilding constituency some degree of normalcy and to illustrate to the voters of District X that their councilperson is indeed working on their behalf. If Floorblue's conveys to District X Councilperson that those stores will never re-open upon a vote against the proposed controversial zoning variance in District Z, what is District X Councilperson to do? Hmmmmmm--a dilemma.
From 1998 to 28 August 2005, the very deliberate Walgreen's strategy with the South Carrollton/South Claiborne Canal Villerie/K&B-Rite-Aid site was to allow the existing vacant buildings to decay to as unsightly and as unsafe levels as possible. Why would they do such a thing? Because they were aware of the non-"plop and drop" design guidelines applicable upon the site and were also aware of the consensus that the site was best suited for a much-needed grocery store--not another drug store, and especially not another Walgreen's. The way to counter that consensus and reverse it instead to leverage was to allow the place to become such a blighted eyesore (and maybe some potentially well-publicized crimes could happen on site too) that the tables would turn where the neighborhoods would be begging Walgreen's to build their store--regardless of the design. The flooding of New Orleans and the abhorrent decline of the site since the storm further galvanizes such potential "just do something" sentiment Walgreen's has been intentionally trying to provoke from nearby residents/potential opponents to the project. Additionally, Team Walgreen's is quite aware and ready to take advantage of a City Council petrified of being branded "anti-business" or "anti-development" in this fragile post-KTMB New Orleans environment. I also suspect this fear is also the reason this debate has not received the coverage in the Times-Picayune or on WWL, WDSU, WGNO, or WVUE one might expect.
Aside from the fact that anyone with a pulse understands a full-service grocery store should be the priority for redevelopment on this one remaining suitable Carrollton site and not another drugstore (in which we have many existing shopping options--including a Walgreen's towards the foot of South Carrollton Avenue), perhaps a more important reason the City Council cannot buckle and grant the desired zoning variance to Walgreen's is because it will establish a bad precedent. Technically, the variance would not create a legal "binding" precedence, but it would still send the message to developers that the City Council is willing to overlook and essentially ignore guidelines and limitations purposely put in place by professional planners for a very relevant and important reason. In other words, if an inch is given up, a mile will be desired in future instances. Therefore, don't allow any wiggle room and make the applicable rules be followed. Period. This is essential given the unprecedented amount of new development and redevelopment set to occur in the near future as New Orleans "re-builds" full steam.
This site is pivotal at one of the most important intersections within the city and serves as the terminus of the historic St. Charles Streetcar Line. The redevelopment of the site simply cannot be squandered with a poor design and wasted on a less than ideal use. What sort of message is sent if a sub-par design is accepted and approved by the City Council at such a high profile intersection? Other developers are watching this case because ultimately the City Council's decision has complete relevance towards the expectations of future projects (what will be allowed and what will not be allowed through the zoning/design review process--i.e. how many corners developers will be allowed to cut or not cut) despite any reassurances that it won't. On Carrollton Avenue alone--subject to the additional standards set forth by the overlay zone--are several flood-damaged properties that undoubtedly will be redeveloped in the very near future such as South Carrollton/Pritchard Place (3/4 of city block destroyed by fire in days following the storm), South Carrollton/Palmetto (already demolished Piccadilly's/soon-to-be-demolished Carrollton Shopping Center--a huge site), South Carrollton/Tulane (shopping center where Mid City Rock N Bowl is located--now for sale), and North Carrollton/Canal (former Canal Villerie/Robert Fresh Market slated to become, drum roll please, another Walgreen's.) These are only such sites along Carrollton Avenue . . . how many are there citywide?
Everyone would agree development and redevelopment and most importantly investment/re-investment in New Orleans is essential towards moving New Orleans forward following the events of nearly a year ago. We find ourselves at an important juncture as we need investment and the physical improvements, jobs, and tax revenue new development will create. However, we also need to retain and respect the characteristics that make New Orleans what it is and rebuild using these as the foundation--not try and circumvent them. These can co-exist--and flourish, but it takes some creativity and understanding . . . . and although Walgreen's apparently could care less (despite the invaluable PR value their cooperation in this project would garnish), the City of New Orleans is worth that effort.
Stay tuned . . .
Complete archive of THE THIRD BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS posts on this subject (some info maybe outdated): 14 March 2006 26 June 2006 28 June 2006 11 July 2006 17 July 2006 18 July 2006 21 July 2006
TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Walgreens, Shelley Midura, Carrollton, Urban Planning