City council forces backers of proposed veterans wellness center to start over

Wellness center tax

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -Signs in a Gentilly neighborhood express the sentiments of many residents who opposed a proposed zoning change related to a wellness center project that is to benefit veterans.

And on Thursday (Sept. 19) some of the residents voiced their opposition to New Orleans city council members.

"This new commercial building is absolutely unnecessary. There are numerous available storefronts within less than one mile of that site,” said Colete Delacroix.

During a meeting two weeks ago, a majority of the council supported allowing the proposed Veterans Wellness Center to move forward over the objections of the councilman representing the area, Jared Brossett.

Plans call for the facility to be built on Mirabeau Avenue and it would be part of the Bastion Community of Resilience.

Brossett said it was clear to him that his constituents opposed a zoning change.

"The initial concept for Bastion was to provide affordable housing, a concept that I fully supported four years ago, however, allowing a commercial development on the site means there will be less space for affordable housing,” Brossett said.

After receiving complaints over the public process and a petition containing over a hundred signatures of residents opposed to the project, the council decided to revisit the issue during its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday (Sept. 19) said Council President Helena Moreno.

"I went and got with Council member [Jason] Williams, we had another meeting with neighbors and said it’s clear based on what we heard from them that we needed to start the process over,” said Moreno.

And the council voted 6 to 1 to do so, approving two new motions related to the proposed project.

"This what we're doing is wiping the slate clean by taking care of the biggest issue, that there will not be a commercial zoning change,” said Moreno.

Dylan Tete, executive director of Bastion Community of Resilience went along with the move.

"We are very committed to hopefully a new kind of dialogue. We're going to put more resources into building bridges,” said Tete during the public comment phase of the meeting.

Mark Raymond, who said he suffered a serious injury, wants to put a fitness center for people with paralysis or amputation in the proposed wellness center. He hopes starting the approval process over will allow for more productive discussions with the community.

"I think it's a good plan, that'll give us a chance to reengage the neighborhood, to see if we can mitigate some of their concerns…I suffer from a life-changing injury three years ago and unfortunately I don’t really have a place to work out here,” said Raymond.

While the council’s latest move eliminates the zoning change proposal from the equation, Moreno said one of the motions approved by the council allows Bastion to apply for a conditional use approval for the property. She said that will allow people in the surrounding neighborhood to work with the council on specific restrictions for the project.

But Brossett said during a September 5 meeting he tried unsuccessfully to defer a vote on the zoning request past the allotted deadline, which would have amounted to a denial. He added that such a deferral would have provided more time for Bastion to work with people in the neighborhood over their concerns.

So, Brossett voted no, when the council revisited the issue on Thursday and took up a measure setting in motion the process for a conditional use proposal to be considered.

"The proposed conditional use is another way of approving commercial intrusion on a residential neighborhood,” said Brossett after the meeting.

And with the process beginning anew at city hall, a final decision on the project could be many months away. But the majority of the council believes that is the right course of action.

"There’s no guarantee that once everybody gets in a room you will come to a consensus, but the work has to be done upfront to be able to confirm that,” said Councilman Jay Banks.

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