Go-cups take center stage in planning commission’s consideration of Uptown pizza restaurant

Advocate staff photo by John McCusker --  Priscilla Leyva, a visitor from Texas, walks down Bourbon Street with a go cup on Aug. 20.
Advocate staff photo by John McCusker -- Priscilla Leyva, a visitor from Texas, walks down Bourbon Street with a go cup on Aug. 20.

A proposal to bring an upscale pizzeria to upper Magazine Street was tripped up Tuesday by the humble go-cup, lately the focus of an emotional public debate about its place in the city’s cultural life.

Following a lengthy discussion about whether or not patrons of the future restaurant should be allowed to take their alcoholic beverages with them out the door, members of the New Orleans Planning Commission could not establish a majority vote on a request from the Besh Restaurant Group to open a restaurant at Magazine and Robert streets.

The proposal, supported by four commissioners and opposed by two, but lacking the five votes needed for an endorsement, will go to the City Council with no recommendation.

The Besh group came before the commission to request a conditional use permit for half of 4935 Magazine St., where the company has proposed putting Pizza Domenica, a casual restaurant serving pies created by Alon Shaya, the executive chef of Domenica restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel.

City planning staff recommended approval of the request, but with 13 provisos, including one banning the use of go-cups.

The Besh team took exception to the condition, appealing to the commission to make a distinction between the take-out cups at Pizza Domenica and the ubiquitous plastic containers available at bars and restaurants across New Orleans.

The remnants of alcoholic beverages served at Pizza Domenica, Besh spokesman Raymond Landry said, would be poured into “souvenir” cups, not go-cups.

Landry showed commission members a black plastic cup, emblazoned with gold lettering, similar to cups tossed from floats during Carnival parades.

“Arguably, it’s not even disposable,” Landry said. “I think most people take these home and reuse them.”

Tuesday’s discussion came amid a public hue and cry over whether city officials are attempting to do away with go-cups altogether by passing restrictions one restaurant at a time.

The grumbling caused the City Council to go on the defensive last week.

In a statement the council tried to assure residents that go-cups aren’t under assault.

“We write to clarify a misconception that there is a collective or concerted effort to ban to-go cups,” the council said.

Still, both the City Council and the city Planning Commission have been working to limit go-cups at certain establishments and in certain residential areas in the past decade.

Some beverage purveyors have been ordered to stamp logos on their go-cups so residents know the source if the cups end up discarded in the street or on private property.

In other cases, such as along the Freret Street corridor, go-cups have been banned altogether.

City planning staff said the ban on go-cups at Pizza Domenica is intended to prevent litter from collecting in the bushes and on the lawns of homes nearby.

No neighbors spoke in support of the go-cup ban at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We support the proposal and the project of the Besh Restaurant Group as well as the recommendations of your staff, with one exception,” said Mark Tullis, of the Faubourg Avart Neighborhood Association.

“We don’t object to go-cups for the restaurant because of the type of go-cups we’ve discussed with them. We feel like they’re responsible and that they would take care to make sure they’re not littered within our neighborhood.”

Commissioner Nolan Marshall proposed the commission accept the Besh proposal without the go-cup ban.

“If our intent is around litter abatement with the to go-cups, do we prohibit any other type of disposable flatware or any other type of to-go container for food that might also contribute to the litter?” Marshall asked the planning staff.

Commission members Royce Duplessis, Kelly Brown and Kyle Wedberg joined Marshall in voting for the plan with the go-cup restriction removed. Commission members Lois Carlos-Lawrence and Craig Mitchell voted against the measure.

With three members absent, the four votes made up a plurality, but not a majority.

Neither Carlos-Lawrence or Mitchell explained at the meeting why they voted against the measure.

Mitchell said later he was concerned the plan didn’t offer enough parking.

The Besh group does not include any off-street parking.

That parking issue was raised at Tuesday’s meeting by former state Rep. Rosalind Peychaud, who attended the meeting as a concerned resident.

“I rise to express my disappointment that we minimize the fact that many people drive to restaurants,” Peychaud said.

“This means a need for parking. So I don’t know why we continue to plan destination restaurants like this in residential neighborhoods with limited parking even for the families who live there.”