PRESERVATION GROUPS, RESIDENTS STUNNED THAT VCC ARCHITECTURAL COMMITTEE GIVES CONCEPTUAL APPROVAL TO NEW HABANA PROPOSAL
GROUPS CONTINUE TO URGE CITY TO SIDE WITH THE LAW
Preservation and resident groups said they are stunned that the Vieux Carre Commission’s Architectural Committee again granted conceptual approval to Sean Meenan’s controversial restaurant and bar proposal at the most prominent corner of the lower Quarter’s residential district.
These preservation groups said the project still violates the VCC’s own rules as well as constitutional protections afforded a national historic landmark.
Quarter and preservation groups contend the project, though renamed and reconfigured, is still too large a development for the historic area.
“What we continue to fail to understand is why Mr. Meenan is intent on bringing a development way out of scale for this National Historic Landmark, rather than opening a standard restaurant, which would meet city and VCC rules,” said Rene Fransen, a spokesperson for those questioning the development.
It has been nearly a year since Mr. Meenan withdrew plans for a development known as “Habana Outpost”. Habana Outpost is a Brooklyn-style event venue which serves food and alcoholic drinks from open, trailer-style kitchens on disposable plates, regularly hosts neighborhood festivals and flea markets that spill patrons into the streets, and operates from a multi-level, open-air configuration, which sometimes hosts concerts, movies and burlesque shows.
Mr. Meenan’s latest New Orleans “café” proposal remains a two-story, open-air development across multiple lots, which preservationists argue violates zoning rules for the lower residential end of the Quarter just as the original design did. The project’s capacity and intensity has also not been diminished.
Mr. Meenan failed to provide a Fire Marshall report on the new proposal’s capacity and was also not asked to explain why there were significant design differences between drawings provided to residents, the news media and the VCC.
Chain restaurants, like Habana Café, which operates in several cities, are against zoning rules for the lower residential end of the Quarter, and zoning in the historic area prohibits the bundling and consolidation of separate properties into mega-developments. The Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA), French Quarter Citizens, Inc., the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, preservationists and residents have repeatedly urged the VCC to review city laws, zoning ordinances and its own rules when considering the Habana project.
Resident and preservation advocates were stunned that the Architectural Committee gave only cursory review to the new drawings.
Attorney Sonny Shields said, “It is surprising that the Architectural Review Committee which is charged with the protection of the historic charter of the Vieux Carre would allow this excessive use for the quietest part of the Quarter.”
VCPORA’s Executive Director Meg Lousteau said, “We believe – and city ordinances require – that when you decide to do a project within the boundaries of the French Quarter, you must abide by the regulations that have been put in place to safeguard the architecture, the zoning, and the tout ensemble. This precious, tiny, irreplaceable historic neighborhood must be protected, and its long-term health and viability must remain the prime objective of our cityʼs regulatory agencies.”
Preservationists have reiterated in various public hearings for more than two years that the Meenan concept violates City Zoning Code (Section 8.1), threatening the historic character and value of the Quarter as a unique place of interest.
“What is a bit of a mystery to us is why Sean Meenan should be able to do what the City forbid Mary’s Hardware from doing on Rampart Street,” said Mr. Fransen. “Mary’s was not allowed to combine two properties of record into one. If the zoning code was enforced for that local businessman, why not this one?”
Mr. Meenan purchased three separate properties at the corner of N. Rampart and Esplanade. Two of the properties host buildings which have both commercial and residential uses. The third property housed a former gas station, which has not been cleared by the State of Louisiana as environmentally safe for development as an eatery.
Preservationists have suggested Mr. Meenan limit his café to a restaurant that meets VCC rules, and develop each property separately. Some residents have even offered to buy the properties so that Mr. Meenan could consider relocating his mega-development in another area of the city, where it would be legal.
Preservationists continue to point to Section 134 of the City’s Code of Ordinances and, Section 12.3 Article 2 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance as outlawing the Meenan Habana concept.