November 19 2015
BY JEFF ADELSON The Advocate
An array of French Quarter and preservationist groups is calling on the courts to reverse the City Council’s preliminary approval of a 190-foot-tall hotel and condominium development near Royal and Iberville streets.
The lawsuit, filed late Thursday afternoon in Civil District Court, accuses the council of violating the city’s Master Plan by giving the green light to the Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel development, which it says would be more than 2 1/2 times as tall as the height limit in the area and inconsistent with the historical character of the Quarter.
“The council’s motion was passed in spite of the uncontradicted professional testimony and evidence that the project is inconsistent with and interferes with the goals, policies and guidelines” contained in the land use section of the Master Plan, according to the suit.
The suit was filed by the Louisiana Landmarks Society; Smart Growth for Louisiana; Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates; French Quarter Citizens; Preservation Resource Center; Faulkner House; and Vic Caracci, who owns property in the Quarter.
The suit over the project at 121 Royal St. could be the first legal test of a debate that has played out on the council and between developers and preservationists over whether the council is strictly bound by the requirements of the Master Plan or if it has some room for interpretation.
Owners Angelo and Regina Farrell have proposed various developments for the site over the years, starting with a 17-story building that won approval from the City Council just before Hurricane Katrina.
The latest project was originally proposed as a 268-foot-tall, 26-story tower. That plan was rejected by the City Planning Commission in August.
Presented at the last minute with a plan for a 190-foot, 20-story tower,the council overruled the Planning Commission earlier this month by a 5-2 vote, with Councilwomen Susan Guidry and Stacy Head opposed.
Two other council members, LaToya Cantrell and Jason Williams, voted for the motion but said they had concerns about the project that would need to be addressed before they voted for a final approval.
The suit cites the Master Plan as well as height, density and historic preservation restrictions in place in the area and points to the City Planning Commission’s denial of the project as it argues those requirements have been violated.
“Now, unfortunately, the City Council has acted arbitrarily, capriciously and unreasonably, ignoring the law, the evidence and the objective facts noted by the Planning Commission to approve a project which, according to the commission, would have ‘a negative impact on adjacent land uses and would substantially alter the character of this portion of the French Quarter, which is essentially the entrance to the historic Vieux Carre,’ ” according to the suit.
The 100 block of Royal Street is not part of the Vieux Carre as defined in the city’s zoning law but has long been considered part of the historic district by most New Orleanians and some preservation agencies.