“The main concern is that they’re going to turn around and demolish buildings and then be allowed to build any number of high-density structures: dorms, classrooms, auditoriums. If we keep demolishing things one by one, we are going to destroy our heritage and our culture and our architecture.” LOUIS KONG, St. Charles Avenue resident
Liz Cropp has a picture-postcard-perfect view of St. Charles Avenue from the front porch of her home.
She can watch as streetcars rumble by on the neutral ground, as families make their way under an oak tree canopy to Audubon Park.
Across the street, a quintessential St. Charles mansion anchors the block.
Cropp now worries the view will change. She and some of her neighbors fear the old mansion — Veritas Hall at 7300 St. Charles Ave. — is in danger of demolition or some unwelcome new use under the city’s proposed new comprehensive zoning ordinance, which would change the building’s zoning designation.
Although Loyola University, which owns the building, says it has no plans to demolish it, its status could be a topic at Monday’s community meeting to discuss the proposed changes to the law governing zoning citywide.
Cropp said she wants to be certain the new plan will not give the university the right to turn the site into a fraternity house, auditorium, day care center, bank, restaurant or any other use that would create more traffic on the avenue or detract from its residential quality.
“St. Charles Avenue is, and has been in the past, a residential avenue with historic neighborhoods and properties. Its beauty lies in its grand mansions, towering oak trees, and abundant green space,” Cropp wrote in a letter to City Councilwoman Susan Guidry. “To change the zoning … would severely compromise the residential nature of the area, particularly along this block of St. Charles Avenue.”
Tonight’s session is one of 10 community meetings that planners are holding this month to discuss proposed changes to the city’s long-outdated zoning ordinance.
The meeting, intended primarily for Central City and Garden District residents, will begin at 6 p.m. at the Dryades YMCA, 2200 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
The proposed revision, which has been more than two years in the making, gives legal force to the land-use guidelines and principles set forth in the city’s master plan.
It governs development on private property and includes lists of permitted land uses for each zoning classification, as well as height limits, setback requirements, urban design standards, operational rules and other regulations.
It also changes the zoning designation on many sites, including Veritas Hall, which Loyola purchased in 2012 from the St. Mary’s Dominican Sisters of Peace.
The building is zoned RM-4, which allows for multifamily residential housing.
RM-4 buildings are typically tall buildings with high density, said Steve Villavaso, an urban planner who has been involved in the city’s neighborhood recovery planning effort.
Veritas Hall has a history as a private residence and library for the since-closed St. Mary’s Dominican College.
At the time of its purchase, the building was used to house college records, alumnae offices and as a gathering place for Dominican alumnae.
When it purchased the building last year, Loyola said the old mansion would help it carry out its facilities master plan, which includes “enhancing and growing residential and social spaces for campus constituents.”
Under the proposed new zoning ordinance, the structure would be zoned Educational Campus District, a new designation that applies only to university campuses. It can cover many uses, from dormitories to administrative buildings.
“The main concern is that they’re going to turn around and demolish buildings and then be allowed to build any number of high-density structures: dorms, classrooms, auditoriums,” said Louis Kong, who lives on St. Charles Avenue. “If we keep demolishing things one by one, we are going to destroy our heritage and our culture and our architecture.”
A spokeswoman for Loyola said the university does not plan to demolish the building.
It plans to use the building to host receptions, Meredith Hartley said.
“We are not tearing down any mansions,” Hartley said. “It’s an older building, and we’re trying to bring it back to life.
“We just don’t have a lot of space on our campus. So we’re looking forward to having a nice place for folks to go.”
If the university did want to change the building’s purpose, under the proposed ordinance it would have to submit a plan to the city that would go before the neighborhood before it could be approved, Villavaso said.
Cropp’s concerns illustrate the sorts of issues residents citywide are grappling with as they try to understand what the first comprehensive rewrite in four decades of the law governing zoning in New Orleans will mean for them.
The law has been amended hundreds of times since the 1970s, but it is still antiquated in many ways.
City officials, residents and the business community have long agreed that a new zoning ordinance is necessary.
The new ordinance is supposed to be easier to decipher than its predecessor. Whereas the 1970s ordinance consists of 800 pages of text, the new ordinance also contains graphics, flow charts and pictures to illustrate its rules.
The proposed new law revolves around a “place-based” zoning system that divides the city into various districts based on fundamental land-use patterns.
The “historic core,” for instance, includes neighborhoods such as Treme and the French Quarter.
Other basic “places” identified in the law are the Central Business District, suburban-style neighborhoods, industrial districts, rural areas, open spaces and institutional districts, such as sites of universities and shopping malls.
Planners have refined the revised measure with input from residents and other stakeholders since a previous round of community meetings was held in 2011. The meetings this month will produce another revision before planners finish their work.
The city hopes to have the new ordinance on the books by March or April of next year.
First, it must be approved by the Planning Commission and then the City Council.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, to remove a photo showing Greenville Hall, a building on Loyola’s Broadway campus which is on the National Register of Historic Places, rather than Veritas Hall.