The owner of the former Colonial Golf and Country Club in Harahan has pledged to hold off on developing about 40 acres of the property for a year as he and city officials try to find someone to buy the area and turn it into a public park.
The proposal appears aimed at mollifying critics of plans to build a shopping center on about 15 acres of the 88-acre property. Many nearby residents have expressed concerns about the future of the site, which has been treated largely as a public greenspace in recent years.
John Georges, one of the partners in the project, said his intention had never been to develop the rest of the site as commercial and the new proposal would allow time to find a buyer who would keep the area as a park.
“Currently you could put 300 houses on that property, we never had any interest in doing that,” said Georges, who also owns The New Orleans Advocate. “We’ve given it one year. We’ll give it another year to figure out a better plan.”
Harahan Councilwoman Cindy Murray, who has been critical of the proposed development, said the idea of keeping a portion of the site as greenspace could be a step in the right direction. However, she said the proposal on its own does little to allay fears that future development could come to the site.
“All this does is put in writing what the gentleman has been saying,” Murray said. “This is not a legal and binding document. Things change. Situations change. What your intentions are may not always be what happens.”
The latest round of debate over Colonial was set off earlier this month, when Stirling Properties filed for a rezoning of about 15 acres on the northern edge of the property. The company plans to buy that portion from JW Colonial, the partnership between Georges and developer Wayne Ducote who own the whole property. Stirling Properties want to build a shopping center that would include an upscale supermarket, drugstore, bank and other retail spaces.
While the plan won the support of Mayor Vinnie Mosca, who cited the increase in tax revenue it would generate, council members balked, raising concerns about allowing the development without knowing how the rest of the property would be used.
The plan for the commercial development will be heard by the city’s planning and zoning board on Wednesday.
Under the proposal put forward this week, the company would hold off on any plans for the middle portion of the property for a year. During that time, they and the city could seek a nonprofit, government agency or philanthropist who would buy the parcel and use it as a park.
“We’ll spend another year working with everybody together to put 40 acres of this into a park for perpetuity,” Georges said.
If no buyer emerges Georges said, the land would be used for residential development. However, an 18-acre pathway around the outside of that portion of the property would be kept as a linear park.
In either case, the developers plan to reopen the clubhouse on the property. The 21 acres surrounding the clubhouse would be reserved for Georges and Ducote. Though not included in the official plans presented to the council, Georges said he and Ducote plan to split that area between them and build a house on each parcel for their own personal use.
Murray, who was one of the more vocal council members calling for the city to hire an outside attorney to look at zoning issues on the site during a Thursday meeting, said the council needs to take its time and consider the proposals. With more details on the table, Murray said she would have to see how the city’s residents feel about the plan.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about what I think,” Murray said. “It’s about what my constituents want.”