Residents Take Council To Court Over Café Habana
NEW ORLEANS – Neighboring property owners to the proposed Café Habana bar and restaurant at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and North Rampart Street believe the City Council has violated its constitutionally-mandated duties to uphold and protect the historic character of the French Quarter, which is a national landmark, and are seeking relief in Civil District Court.
The neighboring residents to the property owned by Developer Sean Meenan said the Council’s 4-2 splintered decision earlier this month, which denied their appeal of the Vieux Carre Commission's approval of the Cafe Habana outdoor dining and entertainment venue, will cause irreparable damage to their quality of life in this last residential corner of the Quarter.
The vote residents are appealing was called for by Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents District C which includes the Quarter.
Plaintiffs in the filing are residential property owners Charles Garber, Rodney Villarreal, René Fransen and Edward Bonin.
Advocates for residential interests, such as the Vieux Carre Property Renters and Owners Association, French Quarter Citizens, and the Louisiana Landmarks Society, have argued for years that the Vieux Carre Commission failed to act properly according to the City Zoning Ordinance by recommending to the City Planning Commission that Meenan had the right to combine separate, neighboring properties in order to change the land parcels’ primarily residential and small business use to build a larger entertainment venue.
The CPC approved the land-use change. Opponents said a similar land-use request was denied to Mary’s Hardware by the VCC, located just blocks from the Meenan property on North Rampart.
Opponents said noise experts for the historic interests of the Quarter showed in repeated demonstrations over the years that that spillover from the outdoor dining and entertainment establishment proposed by Meenan would detrimentally impact the neighborhood, as well as violate existing ordinances.
They said Meenan’s establishments regularly feature live entertainment, community festivals as well as take-out and fast food service, all commercial uses not permitted for the Quarter, according to city ordinances.
They also allege Meenan failed to put a consistent number on the size of the restaurant’s service, but estimates are well above that of existing establishments in the area, which normally serve 50 patrons or less. Residents have had experts testify that the proposed plans of Meenan could exceed 400.
The residents’ suit chronicles several years of actions by the VCC and CPC where deficiencies in the Meenan proposal are outlined, and then never addressed in subsequent designs or meetings. These deficiencies have been related to things as mundane as the noise and location of air-conditioning units, or as significant as the definition of the Quarter’s “tout ensemble.”
Historic preservation expert Anthony Tung testified that the proposed alterations to the historic properties at 1036-38 Esplanade and 1040 Esplanade/1324 North Rampart would detrimentally affect the Vieux Carre's quaint and distinctive character.
The lawsuit states this record of information, such as expert testimony, is sorely missing in what was transmitted to the Council for action in March 2015, and that since there is no record submitted, there is no way for the Council to determine if the proposed development would indeed harm the Quarter.
The neighbors’ appeal, if successful, would require the City Council, the Vieux Carre Commission and the City Planning Commission to follow the laws and procedures already on the books, and uphold the State Constitution, which mandates that one of the Nation’s most treasured Historic Districts be protected and preserved.