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Old Posted Jun 28, 2006, 10:30 PM
no-la-usa no-la-usa is offline
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Tracage Receives City Planning Aprroval!

Condo tower near bridge endorsed

Neighbors criticize plan as out of scale

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

By Bruce Eggler

Despite objections from many nearby residents, the New Orleans City Planning Commission voted Tuesday to endorse plans for a high-rise condominium building near the upriver end of the Warehouse District, next to the Crescent City Connection approaches.

The 24-story, 288-foot-high building, to be known as the Tracage, would have 133 condo units and 207 parking spaces. It would be built at 1100 Annunciation St., at the corner of John Churchill Chase Street.

The final decision on the $50 million project is up to the City Council. The site is in Councilwoman Stacy Head's district.

Objections to the project centered on the height of the proposed tower, which opponents said would be totally out of scale in a neighborhood where most buildings are from two to four stories high.

The site is just outside the historic part of the Warehouse District, in a section where the city's zoning law imposes no height limit, so the height of the building's central tower was technically not an issue before the Planning Commission. However, the developers were seeking waivers to other zoning provisions, including one for the height of the building's garage and another for the project's overall FAR, or floor-area ratio, a measure of the building's mass.

Another waiver would allow the building to have 57 more parking spaces than the 150 authorized by the zoning law. Proponents said the extra spaces would alleviate parking problems in the neighborhood. Opponents said that adding 133 condos would worsen traffic and parking congestion.

Architect Peter Trapolin said that if he had designed a building that needed no waivers, it would have to be 395 feet high to include the same floor area as the 288-foot building proposed. The taller building would not require approval from either the Planning Commission or the council, he said.

The project would require demolition of a warehouse on the site, but the staff of the Historic District Landmarks Commission said the warehouse has no architectural significance.

Much of the opposition to the project comes from residents of the Lengsfield Lofts condo building at 610 John Churchill Chase St.

Keith Perrin, president of the Lengsfield Lofts owners association, said the new building would be just 20 feet from his low-rise building and would obstruct the views and block the light to several units in his building. Besides the proposed building's excessive height, he said, its design would clash with the character of the neighborhood, which consists primarily of masonry buildings.

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Perrin said the building should be redesigned to bring it under 100 feet, the height limit in much of the Warehouse District.

Gary Elkins, an attorney for the developers, said the Tracage would not block the light to any neighbors. He said the only views that would be blocked are of ramps to the bridge.

Rob Tatum, one of the owners of Tracage Development LLC, said the developers bought the property because they knew it had no height limitation. He said the project would be "an excellent example of the New Urbanism" school of urban planning, and Jason Voyles, another of the developers, said it would be consistent with the Urban Land Institute's call for redeveloping post-Katrina New Orleans with "higher density on higher ground."

Joshua Rubenstein, another Lengsfield Lofts resident, said the Tracage would violate a legal covenant prohibiting construction of a new building within 20 feet of the Lengsfield Lofts. Elkins said that covenant no longer is in effect, but Rubenstein warned the opponents would go to court over it.

The Tracage project already has been the subject of litigation. After the city's Board of Zoning Adjustments voted in January to approve basically the same zoning waivers that were before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, prominent local lawyer Russ Herman, a Lengsfield Lofts resident, challenged the action in court, saying the board had not followed proper procedures. The developers then agreed to shift their application to the Planning Commission.

The commission's staff recommended approval of the project, saying it would "bring a higher degree of residential activity in an area on the fringe of the Warehouse District and adjacent to the high-rise bridge," and would create needed post-Katrina housing in the part of the city that was least affected by the storm.

The commission approved the proposal 4-0, with little discussion. Voting in favor were Chairman Tim Jackson, Sandra Duckworth, Ed Robinson and Lou Volz. Three members were absent. The normally nine-member commission has two vacancies.

Another high-rise condo project recently proposed for the Warehouse District, developer Tom Bauer's planned 367-foot tower in the block bounded by South Peters, Lafayette, Commerce and Girod streets, is in the section where the zoning sets a 100-foot height limit.

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