Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
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NEWORLEANS-- A controversial proposed high-rise development for the former Holy Cross High School site in the Lower Ninth Ward took front and center at New Orleans City Hall on Tuesday.

Some neighbors second lined into the City Planning Commission hearing to protest the proposal. The project calls for two new seven-story buildings that would house a mix of retail and 284 residential units.

The developer Perez Architects asked the commission for a zoning change that would increase the neighborhood's height restriction from 40 to 75 feet. Neighbors complained the development would be too tall and too dense for their community of narrow streets and historic shotgun homes.

'We are a national historic district,' said Lower Ninth Ward Vision Coalition organizer Sara Debacher. 'To change the zoning would set a dangerous precedent that we believe would not be permitted in other national historic districts throughout the community.'

Perez said it already agreed to reduce the original proposal from 13 to seven stories and added a half-acre park on the levee.

'We continue meeting with people who live in the neighborhood as recently as Saturday,' said Perez President Angela O'Byrne. 'We had a public meeting with 56 folks attending.'

Some residents testified the development would give the neighborhood, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, an economic shot in the arm.

'We can no longer sit down and sit on the sidelines and watch development, after development, after development walk away,' said Andrew Pete Sanchez.

'It's going to be so successful for us that people are going to come back in our area, maybe banks, maybe grocery stores, maybe drug stores will come back in our area,' said Rev. Joseph Merrill from the New Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church.

Others testified they are not opposed to development, but not at the expense of the character of the Holy Cross neighborhood.

'Yes, we have needs in our community, but I think if it was built on a lower scale that would be acceptable to our residents,' said Holy Cross neighbor Wanda Bailey.

'I call this an assault, an assault on the total fabric of our community,' said Kevin Hewitt, who lives across the street from the Holy Cross site.

After nearly three hours of debate, the City Planning Commission sent the matter to the City Council with no recommendation. It's now up to the City Council to decide whether to approve or reject the zoning change for the proposed Holy Cross, high-rise development.

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