Hopeful French Quarter restaurant developer told to redo some aspects of plan

The Vieux Carré Commission on Tuesday told the developer of a controversial restaurant planned for a blighted corner on the edge of the French Quarter that he must tweak some aspects of his design before the project will be approved for construction.

Sean Meenan has proposed opening a Habana Outpost, a Cuban restaurant with locations in New York and California, in an old service station at North Rampart Street and Esplanade Avenue and in a neighboring building at 1310 N. North Rampart St.

Meenan’s concept includes rooftop seating on the circa-1925 service station and solar panels on the neighboring building.

The commission told Meenan he should remove the solar panels from the North Rampart Street building because they would be out of character with the historic neighborhood, and that he should take down an existing billboard that is next to that building. Those actions, the commission said, could increase Meenan’s chances of getting final approval for the project.

After hours of debate Tuesday about the project, the VCC voted 5-0 to send the proposal back to the Architecture Committee. Commissioner C.J. Blanada abstained from the vote.

The proposed restaurant has been the source of much controversy in recent months.

Opponents argue that Meenan’s 223-seat restaurant is too large for an area that is mostly residential and would bring too much noise and traffic to the neighborhood. For their part, proponents say the restaurant would revive a corner that has long been an eyesore and is unsafe to boot.

Lloyd Shields, an attorney representing some neighbors opposed to the project, said the restaurant, which aims to combine the two separate properties into one, is out of scale for the French Quarter and does not fit in with the neighborhood’s character.

“This is a great project for the lakefront,” he said.

Others, though, questioned whether it makes sense to get in the way of rehabilitative work on the vacant service station and neighboring building.

“It’s a 40-year-old dilapidated gas station,” one speaker said. “This is not character.”