Developers behind a new mixed-use site on the Lafitte Greenway are asking for a tax break to finance the project after agreeing to draw back in a plan for 14 affordable on-site housing units.
In a move backed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Council last week approved plans for the 382-unit, 5-acre mixed-development project, which was first proposed by businessman Sidney Torres IV.
The development team, now led by the Ohio-based firm Edwards Communities, agreed to put back in 14 affordable units in order to allow the property to qualify for a density waiver. In general, new developments are bound by zoning laws restricting density, but with approval, those rules can be waived when affordable housing is made available to lower-income residents.
When City Council last considered the proposal in August, members floated a plan that would scratch the 14 affordable on-site housing units, and instead replace them with a rotating fund that would help lower income residents buy homes elsewhere in Mid-City.
At the time, Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said the revolving loan proposal, which would set aside $640,000 in funds, would help lower income families in Mid-City create wealth by giving them grants to invest in property of their own, rather than continue to pay rent.
The money would be given to 14 first-time homebuyers who make between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income for a soft second mortgage, as a long-term loan. On average, it would give a $46,000 grant per family.
That plan ended up being contentious after housing advocates and other City Council members questioned whether or not the loan fund amount was really a “good deal” in exchange for excluding affordable housing units on a coveted piece of land along the Greenway, especially amid what Councilman Jason Williams called a “housing crisis” in New Orleans.
Ultimately, the units were drawn back into the blueprints, but with a caveat.
Edwards Communities is now applying for a property tax break from Industrial Development Board, called an upfront payment from the developers in lieu of taxes (PILOT), to build the project.
During last week’s meeting, Cantrell said the plan, which allows developers to pay discounted taxes on the property, had the full support of Landrieu. His administration is currently working with the Council to seek ways to incentivize new developments to take on the task of creating more affordable housing options within city limits.
The Industrial Development Board may consider the PILOT proposal for Edwards Communities at its Dec. 13 meeting. During the Nov. 3 City Council meeting, Cantrell said the council’s approval was necessary to ensure that the project could move forward without missing a land purchase deadline.
“We did not want to kill the project,” Cantrell said. “If we hadn’t moved it along, we would not be here today.”
The 380,000 square-foot project, proposed under the real estate company Bayou JTK, LLC, would extend along a nine-acre swath of former railroad land that runs along the Lafitte Greenway to Bayou St. John, and would include residential communities as well as commercial property.
Plans call for 78 percent of the apartment buildings to be studios or one-bedrooms, with first floor units accessible from either the Greenway or the interior of the building. Renderings show 382 units of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, ranging from 750 square feet to nearly 1,200 square feet in size.
Other amenities include a pool with a sundeck, a 6,000-square foot clubhouse with a potential theater and a fitness facility. The development would also feature interior courtyards and two parking garages.