A local non-profit volunteer organization, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, received unanimous approval from the City Planning Commission for plans to bring a neighborhood coffee shop and office space to Saint Ann Street, but a church’s plan for an HIV clinic on Hamburg Street was rejected, despite commissioners’ regrets.
Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, which is dedicated to renovating blighted properties in New Orleans, owns the property at 2801 St. Ann Street — a former corner store, a single-family residence and an accessory structure. According to the City Planning Staff report, the site has been vacant since before Hurricane Katrina.
According to the staff report, although the site was formerly used as a corner store, the site requires a conditional use to permit the coffee shop.
The City Planning Commission staff said that they did not believe the request will have any negative impacts on the surrounding neighbors.
“The conversion of the site to a proposed coffee shop and office could be seen as benefit to the site as it can restore occupancy to a vacant commercial structure and serve a neighborhood need,” staff said.
William Stoudt, executive director of Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, said that most of the neighbors in the Bayou St. John neighborhood are in favor of the project and said that the Fahbourg St. John Neighborhood Association has not taken an opinion on the matter.
“We have gone through the steps and we think that this property is what the neighborhood needs to continue its revitalization,” Stoudt said.
Stoudt said that plans to renovate the site for a coffee shop in the front of the property and office space in the rear will create more opportunities within the community.
“Our plan is to develop the coffee shop in the front as a way of creating more opportunities for our young people to work in the community as well as partner with other nonprofit organizations in the rear of the space to create office space for other non-profits so they can continue to grow and help our neighborhood,” Stoudt said.
John Coyle, construction manager of Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, said that the organization has a “track record of engaging and empowering young people in the rebuilding of the city.”
Before voting in approval of the project, City Planning Commissioner Kelly Brown congratulated Stoudt and Coyle on the work the organization has done thus far in the city.
“Thank you all for the work that you do in the community and revitalizing the health of neighborhoods,” Brown said. “It’s been so important for the past ten years.”
A church’s request for rezoning to allow a medical clinic on Hamburg Street that staff reports said would provide “social supportive educational and health related services for individuals with HIV” did not fare as well, however.
The applicant, St. John #5 Faith Church, has been in the area since 1987 and decided to provide HIV/AID services to the community when members of the church were affected, said church pastor Bruce Davenport.
“HIV/AIDS had hit our church in a devastating way in the 1980s, we took a stand an the stand was to work with HIV and not only HIV but to help our community,” Pastor Davenport said. “We had people in our own church dying from it.”
According to the staff report, the site, 3635-37 Hamburg Street, is currently a vacant lot that once housed a two-family residence and was demolished in 2007.
Davenport said that the former structure was sold to the church to provide for a private setting for the clinic’s services, away from the church.
The City Planning Commission staff recommended denial of the request due to the fact that the rezoning would permit a commercial use in an area that is zoned residential.
According to Britney Barnes of Landmark Consulting, who also represented the request, said that services were provided at the site for over 20 years.
“It’s not like we are trying to get it rezoned to a new development for this particular services that they are provided,” she said. “The services have been here for 28 years so we wanted to clear that so you can understand that this isn’t new. The community knows that he’s been here and also that they welcome his services in that area,” Barnes said.
However, City Planning staff could not confirm that the use of a clinic was permitted.
“We couldn’t confirm in any of our records that it was ever legally permitted,” staff said.
Staff also said that any nonconforming use the structure once had would have been lost when the building was demolished.
City Planning Commissioners expressed their regrets to Pastor Davenport before voting in favor of the denial.
“This is going to be a difficult vote for all of us to make,” Commissioner Nolan Marshall said.
Commissioner Robert Steeg said that he felt constrained before voting but recognized the commissioners’ obligation to uphold the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.
“The work that you’re doing is clearly important, valuable and heartfelt,” Steeg said. “But we just passed this new master plan and the property is zoned residential, and we have a suggestion from the staff that this use is inconsistent with the Master Plan.”
Commissioner Marshall advised Davenport to talk to City Council members about the request since Council has has been known to overrule the planning commission on other good-works projects in the past.
“I would suggest that you definitely talk to the district Council member and you might find a more favorable ear, since they have often lent a more favorable ear to other developers of the sort on other projects that violated the master plan,” Marshall said.
“So don’t take this vote as a disappointment but continue to press forward,” Marshall said.
Davenport said that the church has overcome many obstacles but still remain true to their mission.
“We cant stop now, we wont stop now and we’re just trying to get it done right,” Pastor Davenport said.
Both recommendations require a final approval from the City Council.