NEW ORLEANS - In the bustling Warehouse District, a modest parking lot wedged between two buildings in the 600 block of Tchoupitoulas Street is creating quite a stir.
Developers want to turn Ambassador Parking, LLC., into a nearly 115,000 square foot hotel.
But residents and business owners are protesting because they believe the hotel would be too tall.
“The area will begin not to look like a special historic district anymore. It will look like a Helter Skelter batch of buildings cropping up all over the place with different heights,” said Jack Stewart, president of the Lafayette Square Association.
A group called Residents for Responsible Development has formed in opposition. At a press conference Wednesday, they urged city council members not to bend the rules when they vote on the project at a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday.
“We're telling them that it's not OK to give special treatment to out of town developers who don't want to play by the rules,” said Warehouse District resident Erin Biro.
The proposed hotel would be 75 feet tall, with seven stories. That's 10 feet above the area's recently refined zoning laws.
“Our biggest concern is, if you go forward with a project like this, it's just going to open the door for more developers [to ask for variances]. And then where does it stop?” said Warehouse District resident and business owner Scott Schroft.
But height isn't the only issue residents are concerned about. They're also worried about traffic, because part of the plan would have hotel traffic coming through the narrow Commerce Street.
Neighbors also believe parking would be an issue, because there would be limited on-site parking.
The hotel is permitted to provide valet parking at nearby sites, said Tom Goodwin, senior vice president of Ohio-based Fillmore Hospitality, which is looking to develop the hotel.
But Goodwin said the hotel will actually benefit the neighborhood. An analysis shows the hotel would have no real impact on traffic, Goodwin said. And while there won't be much on-site parking, developers say they would provide valet parking nearby. Plus, they say there are taller buildings in the immediate area, like a 100-foot tall parking garage in the same block.
“We plan to develop a totally customized interior design to celebrate New Orleans’ rich cultural history. We want to celebrate the history of this amazing neighborhood. We plan to use art created by local artists, instead of generic posters printed and framed in China. This hotel will feel like a true boutique. Given all of this, we believe that our hotel will be a strong benefit to the neighborhood and a supporter of property values. We need ten additional feet of height to build a high-quality property such as I describe,” said Goodwin.
But neighbors are still concerned.
The proposed hotel site falls in Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's district.
She said she is talking with as many stakeholders as possible and will have a firm stance on the issue by Thursday's council meeting.
The City Planning Commission has opposed the project, and the city administration stands by that decision.