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City Council proposes amending law to allow new bed and breakfast in old jail

The 112-year-old jail on St. Phillip Street. ( file photo by Jean-Paul Villere).

New Orleans City Council members may have taken the first step in making it possible for a proposed bed and breakfast to occupy a century-old police jail in the Treme.

At a City Council meeting held Thursday, members instructed the City Planning Commission to consider an alteration to the city’s technical definition of bed-and-breakfasts to include former institutional structures — potentially undoing a major legal roadblock that has so far prevented a beloved historical police jail from being saved from ruin by converting it for commercial use.

“This project will take a historic property and bring it back into commerce, providing a high quality and appropriately located bed and breakfast for visitors to our City,” said City Councilmember Jared C. Brossett, according to a release from City Council. “Treme is one of our most culturally significant neighborhoods and I look forward to seeing this blighted structure become a jewel of the neighborhood. We thank the owners for working with the community and we look forward to seeing the development of this property.”

The action was spurred by a recent request to convert and renovate the New Orleans Police station at 2522 St. Philip Street. The building’s new owners, Liz and Raul Canache, had bought the 6,291-square foot Queen Anne and French Renaissance Revival-style structure from the city at public auction, and always had the same dream for it: turn it into a bed-and-breakfast and community focal point.

Recently, the Canaches went before City Planning Commission with their plans, as is required by law for that type of project. In an overwhelming show of support, nearly everyone who spoke about the project was in favor of it — including neighbors, commissioners and even city staff.

But by the end of the meeting, the Canaches left empty handed, and commissioners were forced to vote to postpone a decision on the project. That’s because the language of the city’s land-use bureaucracy stood in the way — meaning that the law was written in such a manner that it proved legally impossible for city planners to allow a bed and breakfast to be built in that type of structure.

Echoing objections in their preliminary report, City Planning Commissioners told the owners last week that a bed-and-breakfast must be a former single or two-family home — which the old police station obviously never was. Laws also said it must be occupied by its owner. The old jail is technically owned by a limited liability company, Down By Law LLC.

On Thursday, however, City Council took actions needed to have those laws changed. Brossett’s motion would allow a former institutional or commercial structure to be converted into a bed and breakfast, if approved by city planners.

The City Planning Commission plans to discuss the old jail during a meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the latest agenda.

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