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||Neighbors First for Bywater
||New Orleans, LA
|4100 Royal St. (AKA the Mazant-Royal Housing Development)
||Jerame J. Cramer
FEMA Region 6
Louisiana Integration and Recovery Office
EHP Program Lead - Louisiana
1500 Main Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Date: November 18, 2019
RE: Mazant-Royal Housing Development, Section 106
Hello Mr. Cramer:
It has been our pleasure to serve as representatives on behalf of Neighbors First for Bywater in FEMA's section 106 review of the proposed housing development at 4100 Royal St. The meetings have been fair, focused and productive thanks to the professionalism of the FEMA staff conducting the meetings.
Neighbors First for Bywater (NFB) is a 501c3 neighborhood organization registered with the city of New Orleans. NFB has consistently advocated for affordable housing in Bywater and we welcome affordable housing at 4100 Royal St., but continue to have concerns about the impact the development as proposed will have on the Bywater National Register Historic District.
NFB advocates for the preservation of our historic neighborhood and for the quality of life of its residents. In this case, we are advocating for the quality of life of future Bywater residents: tenants of the proposed housing development.
We believe that affordable housing residents should have the opportunity to enjoy living in a beautifully preserved nineteenth-century neighborhood just as we do. Damage to the historic integrity of Bywater from an out-of-scale and out-of-context building will be felt most by the residents of that building because they will experience that damage on a daily basis. NFB wants to see a development that integrates both the residents and the architecture into our beloved neighborhood. We are afraid that a building that is jarringly out of context with the neighborhood will create a sense of "otherness" that will separate the residents from their neighbors. Thoughtful integration of the building into its historic surroundings will help build a cohesive community that benefits everyone.
There are six areas of particular concern that NFB would like to see addressed in the Section 106 review:
617 people, mostly Bywater residents, signed a petition opposing the scale and density of the proposed development.
The local process of architectural review for the proposed development has been negated.
The Request for Proposals process that selected the developer may have precluded firms capable of building a more sensitive development.
Opportunities to avoid, minimize or mitigate damage to the historic integrity of the Bywater National Registry Historic District have been foreclosed by funders.
The Section 106 review has not fully addressed the cumulative impact of development in the lower Bywater.
The archaeologic survey of the site should proceed to Phase III
A petition drive opposing the scale and density of the proposed Mazant-Royal housing development garnered more than six hundred signatures. Most of the signees were Bywater residents. This demonstrates the widespread public disapproval of changing the low-rise character of Bywater and the concerns that Bywater residents have about the contribution of this proposed development to the cumulative impact of new development in lower Bywater.
The statement at the head of the petition states:
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED NEIGHBORS living in Bywater and/or the adjoining neighborhoods, oppose the proposed use/zoning changes to the property at 4100 Royal Street as proposed with 150 units. While welcoming affordable housing, we strongly object to the scale, density and design of this proposed project in our historic neighborhood.
This project, as proposed (not as originally designed for about 50 units) would add between 150-450 people plus as many as 150 cars to this already congested area, which has additional proposals for a nearby 75 room hotel, a cruise terminal and lock expansion.
This proposed development by HANO will overwhelm the neighborhood and destroy its unique livability and community. HANO should build a significantly smaller housing development and work with the CITY, HUD and other nearby property developers to include a significant quantity of affordable housing units appropriate to this community.
A complete list of petition signees and their addresses is available on request.
Lack of Local Architectural Review
The City of New Orleans requires that all new construction in historic areas of New Orleans be approved by the Historic Districts Landmark Commission (HDLC), but there is an exception for public buildings. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) will retain ownership of the land at 4100 Royal St., but ITEX Group (a private corporation) will own the building. Nonetheless, the city has accepted the argument that this housing development will be a public building and that the HDLC has an advisory role only and cannot enforce any architectural standards.
In its advisory role, the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) of the HDLC reviewed the plans on three occasions and stated that building was "fundamentally not contextual" and that they would deny the proposal if they had the opportunity. The ARC agreed that the scale and density of the building is the main problem to being compatible with the neighborhood. The ARC suggested "smaller individual single and multi-family residential buildings should be used
in order to blend in and fit within the neighborhood."
Request for Proposals (RFP)
The RFP issued by HANO on August 6, 2015 included redevelopment of 19 scattered sites. ITEX Group was awarded the project based on their bid to build 80 appropriately scaled units throughout the 19 sites, including 56 units at 4100 Royal St. ITEX Group proposed designs that were "properly scaled for the neighborhood and consists mostly of fourplexes which are two stories high." They contended that their design would be "truly consistent with the character of the neighborhood."
Neighbors were first told by ITEX representatives that the increase in density from 56 to 150 units was in response to a HUD mandate. Neighbors subsequently submitted a public records request for HANO documents related to the project, but no HUD directive was included. When asked to provide the document, the Executive Director of HANO, Mr. Greg Fortner, replied that the increase in density was at his insistence, not HUD's.
NFB is concerned that the change in requirements for the project to a larger and higher density development after the RFP had already been awarded may have discouraged other bidders with more experience in designing large housing developments or working in historic districts from applying. The architect for the development, DNA Workshop, has no record of working in New Orleans' historic districts nor do they appear to have ever designed a building as large as has been proposed.
Foreclosure of the Section 106 Review
The developers and HANO representatives have insisted that the scale and density of the building cannot be modified because Community Development Block Grants already awarded by the Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC) is contingent on the inclusion of 136 units. The Section 106 regulations warn that, "[w]here an agency official has failed to complete the requirements of section 106 in accordance with the procedures in this part prior to the approval of an undertaking, the [ACHP's] opportunity to comment may be foreclosed." (36 C.F.R. § 800.9(b)). Yet LHC, which is responsible for distributing HUD block grants, has approved federal funding for the development without ensuring Section 106 compliance "prior to" their decision to award funding based on the number of units.
As a result, the main issue of the development's impact on the surrounding historic district, scale and density, has been predetermined and is not avoidable, nor can it be minimized or mitigated.
There are several new developments proposed for lower Bywater besides the Mazant-Royal housing development. These include a new 90 room hotel directly across Mazant Street, a cruise ship terminal directly across Chartres Street, and the redevelopment of the Naval Support Activity base two blocks away on Poland Street which will likely include hundreds of residential units. Additionally, there are currently three other hotel proposals in Bywater and plans for condominiums along Chartres Street. We expect the Bywater section of the Crescent Park to experience higher visitation after the upper and lower sections of the park have been connected through the redevelopment of the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf.
The proposed development should be considered in the context of all of these developments rather than in isolation. However, assessments of the impact of the Mazant-Royal housing development largely ignores the pressures put on Bywater of these other developments. The traffic study submitted by ITEX Group only considers the impact that traffic generated by the proposed Mazant-Royal development on the neighborhood without putting it into context of all proposals for the area. The traffic study even ignores the presence of the Public Belt railroad that runs just feet from the site and blocks traffic for extended periods of time.
The Section 106 regulations issued by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) specifically require the consideration of "cumulative" impacts (36 C.F.R. § 800.5(a)(1)).
Phase III of the Archaeology Survey
Phases I and II of the archaeology survey have revealed many significant remnants of the Olivier Plantation: one of the earliest plantations in Louisiana. We believe that it is important to document the long history of the Bywater National Registry Historic District, in all aspects, prior to destroying the integrity of the site with earth moving equipment and pile driving. This will require that the archaeology survey be extended to include a Phase III survey.
The archaeology consultants, Coastal Environments, Inc., completed the Phase I and II aspects of the survey and have worked with neighbors to help them understand the scope of their work and what it will entail. Given that they have already established trust with the neighborhood, we would like to see them retained for the Phase III survey. At the very least, we would like the archaeologists conducting the Phase III survey to be from Louisiana so their expertise in local archaeology is deepened and retained as a local resource.
We very much appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this important review process and look forward to continued engagement. NFB has been very active in working with local preservation organizations and neighborhood organizations from other historic neighborhoods to protect our national heritage. We are always available for comment and welcome any new information regarding this Section 106 review.
Brian Luckett, Treasurer
Joseph Brown, NFB Member and Near Neighbor