Kenner approves rezoning

When the sprawling Redwood Apartment complex in Kenner was razed after Hurricane Katrina, city officials and residents fretted for years that it would be replaced by an equally dense and troubled multifamily housing complex.

But those fears have finally been erased after the Kenner City Council agreed Thursday to rezone the property for commercial use, and city officials believe the site could become an economic engine for the city.

The council unanimously agreed to rezone the property from residential three, which allows high-density housing, to a mixture of commercial two and residential one. That means the 15-acre property in the 2200 block of West Esplanade can now be used for businesses like bowling alleys, restaurants, day-care centers or funeral homes along with a small sliver for single-family homes. Developer Raoof Khan recently purchased the property and has expressed interest in putting a shopping center on the site.

Councilman Joe Stagni, whose district includes the site, said the rezoning is the culmination of many discussions with residents and city officials. Stagni said he held a public meeting with residents, and they overwhelming supported the idea of a commercial developments.

Nearby residents were concerned that as many as 500 new apartments could be built on the site, and Khan’s plans seem to be a big improvement on that possibility, Stagni said. Although Stagni was not as critical of the Redwood Apartments as some city officials, noting that the complex provided housing for many of the city’s Latino residents, he said this is a positive change.

Even without a new development, the city will see an increase in property tax revenues thanks to a reassessment based on the sale.

“This has been years in development,” Stagni said. “I’m excited about the prospects out there.”

Councilman Kent Denapolis lavished praise on Stagni for his work getting the site rezoned, noting that residents all over the city were concerned about the fate of the site. With the new plans, the city has the possibility of receiving new revenue through commercial development. Council members noted that the city is dependent on sales tax revenue to survive, and Kenner is even reviving a campaign to encourage residents to shop locally instead of online through its public access channel.

More importantly, residents won’t have to worry about more multi-family housing, Denapolis said.

“We don’t need more multifamily,” he said. “Everybody in the city, all the way to my district, were talking about what was going to happen there.”

Councilwoman Jeanie Black said the Redwood complex started with a lot of promise but unfortunately lost some of its luster over the years. The complex was built in the late 1970s, and over the years had become a problem area for the city’s police, according to officials.

There were about 400 units in the complex.

Councilwoman Michele Branigan noted that commercial development is contagious. Sometimes businesses see one person investing in an area and decide to make a similar commitment, she said.

City officials are never certain exactly which areas will see the growth.

“It’s almost like if you build it, others will come,” she said.

Khan has not released any definite plans for the site, nor has he set a timetable for the development.