By Claire Byun
The historic McDonogh 31 school building left vacant for years is once again under the city’s radar as developers are hoping to turn the shuttered structure into apartments.
Neighbors approve of the plan that would bring the historic building back to life, but limited parking in an already-tight block have some concerned.
Developers are hoping to turn the shuttered school – last used at Morris F.X. Jeff Elementary – into an apartment complex with 26 units and some off-street parking. The project includes a mix of 6 studio, 15 one-bedroom units and 5 two bedroom units to be located on the four levels, which includes the attic space.
The proposal was approved by the City Planning Commission subject to 14 provisos, which include restoring broken public sidewalks around the building and securing approval from the Historic Districts Landmarks Commission before changing anything on the facade. Adam Vodanovich, with development firm TKTMJ, told the commission he appreciates the board’s support, especially after years of complications.
“We’ve been working on this for about two years now,” Vodanovich said. “We look forward to being part of the neighborhood.”
McDonogh 31 LLC bought the property from the Orleans Parish School Board in September 2014 for $920,000, according to public records. The corporation’s previous principals, Joseph Stebbins and Michael Mattax, partners in CCNO Development, planned a historic restoration of the school building. Neighbors, who were concerned with the planned project’s density, attempted to change the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance to limit the number of units on the site.
That group failed, but the project was stalled for so long the developers sold it off. Vodanovich, the new developer, has worked with neighbors to meet their concerns about parking, density and the history of the building.
Shana Sassoon, who lives in the area, told the board she appreciates how involved developers have been during the whole process. Sassoon didn’t speak in favor or opposition to the project, but did bring up her concerns about nearby parking.
Off-street parking is proposed on the Dumaine Street side of the property and on a narrow stretch of land behind the building that extends to N. Lopez Street.
“It’s a good day when I can park on my block, and the idea that there will be overflow parking on the already-busy lot is worrying,” Sassoon said.
The development used to include five lots on Saint Anne Street with off-street parking, but those lots were sold off. Vodanovich said the new owner has agreed to work with the McDonogh 31 project to alleviate some of the parking issues, though plans haven’t been finalized yet.
For Charlotte Ford, parking near her home is a matter of safety. Many people in the neighborhood – technically Bayou St. John – are senior citizens, so walking more than a block to and from their car is an issue.
“If you’re young and fit, it’s not a problem,” Ford said. “But for many, they need to be able to park near their homes.”
City staff recommended approval of the project due to it’s relatively small size; the multi-family dwelling would likely be fairly moderate in the overall levels of activity, noise, traffic, and parking demand it would generate, staff said. Additionally, the renovation will enable a historic,
architecturally significant building to return to use.
Commissioner Eugene Green, Jr.commended developers on their ability and willingness to work with neighbors. Green noted that parking is an issue all over the city, but the proposed project meets requirements of the city’s Master Plan.
“It’s hard to get around all those concerns, but it’s good to know there’s a developer who’s willing to work with the neighborhood,” Green said.
The project now moves to City Council for approval.