A recent petition has further fueled an already heated debate over whether two mid-rise apartment complexes should be built on the old Holy Cross school site, with some residents claiming the developer falsified names and addresses to exaggerate support for the project.
"All money is not good money," said resident Sarah DeBacher. "All development is not good development."
Renderings detail what developer Perez Architecture wants to do with the site. The plan calls for a retail space and two seven-story apartment buildings that could house about 300 people.
"This is a perfectly good development in the right place, but our neighborhood isn't it," said DeBacher.
Critics argue the development is out of character for the historic area with mostly single-family homes. But supporters say it will bring an economic boost to the neighborhood.
The community group that opposes the project started a petition and has more than 500 signatures. Perez Architecture has its own petition claiming widespread community support.
"You know, when I first looked at it, I thought, 'I don't know that person. That's not my neighbor. And so we printed out the petition and we went about evaluating it," DeBacher said.
"Something is wrong here. We can show rampant misconduct on their part," one resident said.
"We did drive-bys. There literally is no address. We spoke to more than one resident who claimed her signature had been forged," DeBacher said.
One of the addresses on the Perez petition, 1527 Deslonde, was found to be an empty lot. The name on the petition is Aaron Ambo, and according to the Orleans Parish Assessor's website, it's owned by the Road Home Corporation."
In some cases, community volunteers said they knocked on doors to ask residents if they did indeed sign a petition in favor of the development. The Rev. Charles Duplessis said he was shocked to find out that his address was listed.
"She asked us if someone by the name of Brechtel lived at the address, and I informed her no they did not," Duplessis said. "And no one at our home had signed a petition for the project."
"To see that they were sort of manufacturing this petition and using it to proclaim, 'we've got the support of the community' - it's insulting," DeBacher said.
Steve Massicot of Perez Architecture sent the following statement: "We have heard concerns about petitions gathered by community members, but a review of the City Planning Commission, HDLC, and community meetings proves that dozens of real neighbors have showed up to express their support for the project."
On Thursday, the City Council deferred the re-zoning request for the project. A Perez Architects spokesman said they're hopeful that a two-week delay by the council will give them more time to come up with a compromise that all will support.