city government

City delays decision for bed and breakfast at old police jail (live coverage)

The 111-year-old jail on St. Phillip Street. ( file photo by Jean-Paul Villere).

Nearly everyone who spoke about the proposal to convert the century-old New Orleans Police station at 2522 St. Philip Street into a bed and breakfast Tuesday afternoon before the City Planning Commission was in favor of it — including the neighbors, the commissioners and even the city staff.

Only the language of the city’s land-use bureaucracy stood in the way, but that obstacle proved insurmountable for now, and commissioners voted to postpone a decision on the request until they can figure out how to accommodate it.

Property owners Liz and Raul Canache bought the building from the city at public auction, and always had the same dream for it, they said: to convert it into a bed and breakfast in the Treme, and use it as a community focal point as well. They made that plan well known to city officials when they bid on it, and consulted with them on how to accomplish it, seeking the zoning change at the officials’ recommendation.

“We were given a road map by the city to follow, and we have followed that road map to the letter,” said Raul Canache.

The Louisiana Landmarks Society noted that the building was on their 2010 list of New Orleans’ Nine Most Endangered properties, and that the Canaches would fully restore it. Their proposal was also accompanied by an outpouring of support from neighbors, many of whom were associated with the Canache’s church, St. Luke’s Episcopal.

“Liz and Raul have become a part of our community,” said church member Linda Hamilton. “It’s just awesome that someone would want to come in and take over this building, rather than have it sitting blighted.”

City Planning Commission staff members, however, said they had no conceptual problem with turning the building into the church — but that a number of legal problems simply prevent it, echoing objections in their preliminary report. First, a bed-and-breakfast must be a former single or two-family home — which the old police station obviously never was. Second, it must be occupied by its owner — but the property is technically owned by a limited liability company, Down By Law LLC, which the Canaches said they formed at the recommendation of city officials to protect themselves in case someone is injured by the decrepit building prior to renovation.

City planning officials said they are working with the City Council to prepare changes to the law that would allow the building to be used as a bed-and-breakfast. If they succeed, a zoning change wouldn’t even be needed, as such as business is allowed in residential zones.

That, however, would preclude the use of part of the building as a community meeting space, which Raul Canache described as essential to helping the business serve the neighborhood.

“You’re saying that there’s absolutely nothing straightforward about this,” Commissioner Kyle Wedberg said to the staff, noting that a better path back to commercial use is needed for these institutional buildings that the city is auctioning off.

Commissioner Nolan Marshall III expressed dismay that the earliest resolution possible sounds like January or February, and city planners promised to keep working on it. Ultimately, the commissioners voted to postpone any decision until its next meeting for a status update from staffers.

To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below:

Live Blog City Planning Commission – Oct. 28, 2014

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