By Sarah Tan
Special to Mid-City Messenger
Although the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell has been a hot topic of discussion this year, it was the prospect of a redevelopment of an old school building that sparked concerns about parking and overcrowding during last night’s Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association meeting.
Local developer CCNO has proposed to redevelop the abandoned McDonogh 31 building on Rendon Street between St. Ann and Dumaine streets into a set of 34 apartment units, with the building of an additional four family-sized homes in the area that used to be the school’s playground. But some residents worried that this would make for too many neighbors on the block.
“We are worried that this development will make our neighborhood feel like Jazz Fest every day!” said Jenny Bagert, resident and co-leader of the organization Neighbors of McDonogh 31.
Bagert and co-leader Shana Sassoon said the number of units proposed at the new site would create a parking problem for current residents in an area where they claim parking is already scarce. The school currently sits on an area that is equivalent to 15 city lots, they added, which they estimate would accommodate 45 people. The new development, they fear, would create a situation where 60 or more people would be living and 120 or more cars parking on the block.
“What is an issue is that a lot of the projects CCNO has done are not inside a tiny neighborhood,” Sassoon said. “It isn’t like New York, we’re not so New York-y.”
Despite this claim, Neighborhood Advisory Board member Conrad Abadie argued that perhaps density was what Bayou St. John needed.
“We have lost tremendous density in this neighborhood, just look at all the doubles that have been converted to singles,” Abadie said. “Neighborhoods that lose density lose services, density in itself is not a bad thing.”
CCNO representative Pierre Walker noted that the organization has been working with the Neighbors of McDonogh 31 to address their concerns, and that they will continue to do so until an agreement can be reached. They have currently tabled their proposal for the four family-sized houses on the lot, and they are working to see if there are other options to address parking in the area. He did note, however, that current zoning allows for 50 units on the lot, so while the redevelopment would cause an increase in neighborhood density, it would not be something that would be unlawful.
“We want to engage the neighbors and go back to the drawing table, there are lots of options…we’ve agreed to address concerns of density and parking,” Walker said.
In other business, while most residents agreed that overall, Jazz Fest this year was a pleasant affair that was improved from last year, some brought up concerns about taxis and non-residents in residential areas.
Resident and organizer of the neighborhood committee for Jazz Fest Susan Roth said that overall, she’d give Jazz Fest a “D-minus.”
“We really feel [Jazzfest] totally failed us,” Roth said, adding that she noticed unlicensed vendors and cabs u-turning and causing traffic in residential areas. She said that the neighborhood will, in the future, look to ask Jazzfest for a cut of their profits.
“Ticket sales were almost 28 million dollars, and we as a neighborhood should be getting some services,” she said.