VCPORA and FQC letter to BZA re 528 Bienville

January 6, 2010

City of New Orleans

Board of Zoning Adjustment

City Planning Commission

1340 Poydras Street, Suite 900

New Orleans, LA 70112

 Re: 528 Bienville Street

 Zoning Docket Number 240-09

Dear Members:    

We write on behalf of French Quarter Citizens, Inc. (FQC) and Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA), French Quarter community organizations that work to preserve the quality of life in the Vieux Carré’ neighborhood, its historical character and architecture.

At the BZA’s December 14 meeting, FQC and VCPORA spoke in opposition to the applicant’s request for a deferral and indicated that they were prepared to comment in opposition to the applicant’s request for the waiver of the French Quarter height restrictions to permit a height of 74.6’ on a building already exceeding the 50’ height limit.

As FQC wrote Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) Chair Dr. Ralph Lupin on September 17, 2009, French Quarter Citizens has consistently opposed granting permission for buildings to exceed the 50 foot height limitation. The character of the French Quarter depends vitally on maintenance of its prevailing low-rise architecture, which has shaped the French Quarter for hundreds of years. It goes hardly without saying that the test applied to applications to exceed this limit must be high indeed.

We maintain that the applicant’s proposal does not meet the standards for granting a zoning variance set out in Section 14.6.4. Standards for Variances.

1. Special conditions and circumstances exist which are peculiar to the land, structure, or building involved and which are not applicable to other lands, structures, or buildings in the same zoning district.

There are no such special conditions or circumstances peculiar to the structure at 528 Bienville; indeed, research demonstrates that 20 structures (see attachment for addresses and images) in the immediate vicinity of 528 Bienville, and sharing its physical characteristics.  They would presumably be able to cite any waiver granted to 528 Bienville as justification for similar treatment.  Moreover, we believe that lack of recreational or open space do not constitute justification for granting a waiver of the height restriction.

2. Literal interpretation of the provisions of this Ordinance would deprive the applicant of rights commonly enjoyed by other properties in the same district under the terms of this Ordinance. 

No other properties in the same district commonly enjoy relief from plain language of the law that prohibits that building heights exceed 50 feet. 

3. The special conditions and circumstances do not result from the actions of the applicant or any other person who may have or had interest in the property. 

There are no special conditions or circumstances, and thus none that result from the actions of the applicant or any other person.

4. Granting the variance requested will not confer on the applicant any special privilege which is denied by this Ordinance to other lands, structures, or buildings in the same district or similarly situated. 

Granting the variance would indeed confer on this applicant a special privilege that is denied by the plain language of the Ordinance to other properties. The language relating to height limitations in the French Quarter is unambiguous; the applicant seeks treatment that would not be readily granted to other buildings similarly situated.

5. The variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality. 

The architectural character of the French Quarter rests heavily on the height limitation. Granting the waiver thus undermines adherence to this essential tenet crucial to maintaining the tout ensemble of the Quarter. This is particularly important because the building is not unique, and the precedent created by granting the variance could be widely cited for similar structures.

6. Strict adherence to the regulation for the property would result in a demonstrable hardship upon the owner, as distinguished from mere inconvenience. 

The proposed rooftop structure is purportedly to be used to shelter recreational activities. The owner would suffer no demonstrable hardship by not granting the height waiver. The building could be used for habitation, its intended purpose, with no diminution in the habitable area.

7. The purpose of the variance is not based exclusively upon a desire to serve the convenience or profit of the property owner or other interested party(s). 

Indeed, the property owner has stated that the purpose of the structure is for the convenience and pleasure of the owners. To the extent that “convenience” can be translated into economic terms, it would presumably enhance the owners’ potential profit upon resale.

In sum, the applicant’s application for waiver of the height limitation clearly fails the tests enumerated in the BZA’s criteria 1–7. Accordingly, the BZA has no course but to deny the application with prejudice. 

Respectfully submitted,

Brian R. Furness, President   

French Quarter Citizens   

Ann Masson, President

Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates