Last week's public meeting to discuss the Romney's Pilates project on Magazine Street concludes the neighborhood's opposition as a final settlement has been reached:
The dispute over the height and parking associated with the L-shaped cinderblock building came to an end Monday night as Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office released a final settlement agreement with Romney Pilates, saying the city has done as much as it can to change the design of the building and get the business to contract for additional parking in the area.
UptownMessenger.com has the recording of their live coverage of the meeting available.
Councilwoman Guidry made the point I've been making for some time now, the city isn't going to order Romney to tear the place down. That Ms. Romney and her husband did everything by-the-book is not in dispute. There's no ordinance that said Hunter Cazes couldn't present a two-story illustration to show "perspective" on parking, then build a three-story building. There's no law that said Ms. Romney had to tell the truth when she stated she would only have four students in a pilates class, then set up a website offering classes for ten. These things may make Romney and Cazes bad neighbors and arguably liars, but those things are not sufficient legal justification for the city to pull the building down.
Clearly the Mayor's office as well as Ms. Guidry are not happy about the current procedures for soliciting input on zoning waivers, and will work on changing the law:
...The newly created Office of Neighborhood Engagement, which is now accepting job applications, will ensure that neighborhood voices get their say in debates facing the city. And the city's new master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance will formalize neighborhood participation in planning issues and the notification of neighborhood associations by the city and developers, Sherman said.
Guidry said she plans to introduce legislation requiring neighborhood associations and more neighbors to be notified about zoning variance applications.
This will be a huge improvement over the "put an ad in the paper" requirement that exists now. Future Magazine Street developments will no doubt be as strongly opposed as Romney's, as this graphic from Da Paper indicates:
This goes back to my thoughts on what a neighborhood is. People in Audubon Place or Carrollton don't mind if Magazine Street gets stacked up with retail development, since they'll just block up the streets surrounding Magazine. A developer can argue that the people living in the immediate vicinity of the developments are merely NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) who don't want to see the city succeed.
This incident should serve as an object lesson to neighborhood groups across the metro area, however. Developers will only do what they are legally required to do, particularly when they know they will run into extended neighborhood opposition. A coordinated effort by neighborhood associations will be required to supervise future developments on Magazine. Given the property values in the area, it's going to take someone with a bit of personal wealth (like Romney and Cazes) or a large corporation (Walgreens, etc) to develop it. These are people who unaccustomed to losing. They hire the right folks to get the job done. Vigilance is the neighborhood's only defense.