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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- Abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, plans to redevelop the old Holy Cross school site have come under fire in the Lower 9th Ward.

Some residents say the developer's design doesn't mesh well with the historic neighborhood. But others say this project could help pave the way for much needed commercial and residential development.

'That house is empty. My neighbors just moved into that green house. That brick red one is empty,' said Mark Ford while pointing out blighted properties on his block.

For 59 years now, Ford has called the Lower 9th Ward home. He says it's still struggling to bounce back after Katrina.

'The development that the Perez group and our councilman is agreeing with is going to take away from the historic value of this district,' said Ford.

Ford joined his neighbors opposed to the redevelopment plan Thursday night at the old Holy Cross school site. An older rendering by developer Perez shows high-rise buildings on the levee and the old school building used as a commercial office space.

Right now, the city's zoning height limit in the neighborhood is four stories. Perez is looking to change that by proposing two seven-story apartment towers. Perez says it's looking at a total of 240 to 270 units, depending on the final design.

'They're one- and two-bedroom apartments that are mostly small apartments. 800 square feet on average. They're not family friendly and we want the neighborhood to be family friendly,' said resident Simon Hand.

Opponents also worry about traffic, density and a modern-look that's different the neighborhood's historic character.

'It's not the right development for the neighborhood. We want a development, but not this one,' added Hand.

The project's developers met with community members Thursday night to address concerns at Bethel AME Church on Caffin Street.

'I'm not promising what the results will be. We're trying to, as requested, open ourselves more to the community,' said Steve Massicot with Perez.

Councilman James Gray says although Perez is seeking a zoning change, nothing is set in stone.

'We don't know what its going to be. I may be. I may not be. I'm going to look at what we end up with at the end of the day,' said Gray about whether or not he supports such a zone change.

'Large box stores don't come here,' said Kirk Robinson, who walks past the abandoned school regularly. The Lower 9th Ward resident wants to see Perez and other developers move in. He hopes it will spark more commercial and residential investment in the area.

'I'm a strong believer of new development in New Orleans. I'm glad and I see the changing of the guards,' said Robinson.

Perez says it needs to resubmit its plans to the both the City Planning Commission and the Historic District Landmarks Commission for approval before it heads to the City Council. The developer did not have a timeline for Eyewitness News on when it will resubmit those plans.

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