There was a lot going on at Grace Episcopal last night. A meeting for Planning District 5 was being held in the sanctuary. A Bulgarian band was playing in the parish hall. So our “Bienville Square” meeting was off to the side in a small classroom.
We were over capacity. There must have been forty people there, so it was standing room only. I’d guess ten people were a part of the development team, and another ten probably heard about it via e-mail. But that leaves roughly twenty people who came out as a result of the 200 fliers I distributed, and I was pretty happy with that. They were not the “usual suspects” I’m used to seeing at Mid-City meetings either, but they all care enough about their neighborhood to come out on a Monday night.
As to the content of the meeting itself. Things got off to a raging start when a guy in the audience protested he owned some of the land in question and didn’t know anything about this development. Or something. He was pretty angry. That was never really cleared up. Then we heard from developer and basically had an hour or more of Q&A.
The banker: Ashton J. Ryan, Jr (um, not to be confused with that other Ashton Ryan). The developer: Jonah Dowling. The architect: Clifton James. The builder: Paramount Construction. The Urban League is involved as well; I think they will ultimately be taking over ownership or something like that. Nolan Rollins was there.
I guess my take was generally positive. I see plenty of room for improvement, but I also think we could do worse — a lot worse. I’m suspicious by default, but these guys talk a good game, and at some point you have to decide how much you trust that talk. I’m inclining toward a bit of trust, for a lot of different reasons.
Some of my neighbors found their comments demeaning or insulting. I didn’t. The banker made a comment about the area not being a good one for home-ownership, which some people found offensive. I believe he was referring only to the block and a half they want to develop; even so I would disagree with his assessment, but on the other hand he’s more expert in such matters, and he’s putting up some money.
This is a rental development. Its not a single monolithic building, but 25 doubles, or 50 units, mostly three-bedroom units. Maybe 150 people, maybe more? I’m not generally afraid of higher density as some people are, but that seems like it might be too dense for a block and a half in this area.
I believe the project would be improved substantially by 1) reducing the density somewhat, and 2) including a few units for sale to anchor the block.
They did say they’d commit to buying and rehabbing for sale to houses in the surrounding blocks, which would increase home-ownership in the neighborhood.
I suppose the neighborhood should think pragmatically. If the developer does not get his tax credits, then this is all moot — though we might still pursue their offer to rehab homes in the area for sale. If they do get it, the question becomes, how much can we influence their plans going forward? Can we work with them? I think we have to, and they seem interested in that, which is a good sign.
The tax credit decision is supposed to come down tomorrow.
My favorite exchange from the meeting was when Ryan bragged about how rare it was for neighbors to meet a bank president like this.
“Not for me,” a neighbor said. ” I’m a waiter at Antoine’s. I talk to bank presidents every day.”
Some meetings I dread — they’re like pulling teeth. All in all, this meeting left me with a nice warm feeling inside, despite the occasional contentious moments. On the walk home, I reflected that I felt happy to be living here in Mid-City New Orleans.