False petition claims surface in Holy Cross redevelopment proposal
15th April 2014 · 0 Comments
By Nayita Wilson
Community residents who oppose a multi-use rezoning and redevelopment of the historic Holy Cross neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward submitted allegations of forgery and other misrepresentations on petitions that were favorable to project developers to all members of the New Orleans City Council last week.
Members of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (HCNA) and the Lower 9 Vision Coalition (L9VC), say some of the petitions gathered by Perez Architects, APC—and architecture firm that has drawn up plans to redevelop the former Holy Cross College campus at 4950 Dauphine—contained unauthorized signatures of residents, duplicate addresses, addresses to vacant or abandoned properties, and false residency claims.
Kim Ford, vice president of HCNA and founding member of L9VC, said findings along this order led the groups to launch a grassroots investigation into the petitions, which resulted in them submitting a 54-page analysis of their findings to all members of the New Orleans City Council last Tuesday evening.
The matter was set to go before the city council the next day; however, it was removed from the council’s agenda a few hours after residents shared their discoveries, according to Ford.
New Orleans Councilmember James Gray, II, District E, represents the Lower Ninth Ward and said the matter was deferred until Thurs., April 24, at the developer’s request. A spokesperson for Gray’s office stated that the purpose of the delay was to give both parties an opportunity to discuss the matter.
Lower Ninth Ward resident Diedra Ellis was disturbed to learn that her name was forged on a petition.
“I was kind of . . . angry because you shouldn’t put people’s name on things that they are not aware of, “ she said.
Ellis said she doesn’t share the same name with anyone in her household or family and pointed out that the script on the petition does not match her handwriting. She said she opposes the Holy Cross project and credited the revelation to a community resident who was working to confirm the veracity of signatures on the petition.
Among other allegations, residents pointed out nonexistent homes such as the even numbered homes within the 300 block of Tricou Street. According to the petition: P. Evans resides at 334 Tricou St.; C. Duals resides at 330 Tricou St.; and B. Coleman resides at 328 Tricou St.
However, there are no homes with those addresses, and a seemingly abandoned warehouse takes up this entire block.
No one denies the allegations.
Gray said, “I know the general accusation. I haven’t really formed an opinion about this, and I don’t know anything about it one way or the other.”
He said he wouldn’t be swayed either way and suggested that all interested parties drive through the community to determine whether or not the proposed development would help or harm the Lower Ninth Ward.
“I think that’s the decision I have to make, and that’s the decision the council has to make,” he said.
Council president and at-large Councilmember Jacquelyn Brech?tel Clarkson said, “I was informed of the fraudulent signatures but I’m not in a position to investigate or comment.”
A spokesperson for council vice president and at-large member Stacy Head said that she, too, is aware of the matter but would not comment.
On the developer’s side, Perez leadership stands behind its project and has acknowledged concerns with the petitions.
“We are proud of the broad-based coalition of neighbors that have come together to support the Perez project. We also acknowledge the genuine opposition from some neighbors in the Holy Cross community and are hopeful that a two-week delay from the City Council will give us time to come together with a compromise that all will support,” according to Perez vice president and managing director of real estate development Steven Massicot.
Massicot did not respond to questions regarding the methodology of gathering the petitions.
The Lower Ninth Neighborhood Ward Council, Inc. (LNNWC) supports the Perez project for its forecasted economic and job development benefits, according to the organization’s president, Vera McFadden.
In February, the organization submitted a letter of support for the project.
“We believe that this type of development can have a significantly positive impact in the revitalization of the Lower 9th Ward and we strongly support this project,” the letter reads.
McFadden said she was unaware of any petition and did not sign one. LNNWC’s letter of support and other petitions can be viewed online at revivelower9.com under the petitions section.
Speaking as a resident, and not in her official LNNWC capacity, McFadden says she is concerned with how the development would impact the community.
“The community itself is supposed to be a historic district. What Perez is proposing doesn’t fit the community,” she said.
Ford voiced similar concerns and stated that the she’s not opposed to developing the area, rather, changing the zoning and building edifices that would supersede current structures in the community, which are capped at about 40 ft.
“Development would put a shadow over their houses—over their American dream,” Ford said.
The Holy Cross campus has approximately 13 acres of land, according a Feb 2014 City Planning Commission staff report. Of that acreage, 12.6 acres are zoned to allow for single and two-family residences. The remaining .56 acres of wooded area along the Mississippi River are zoned for in a light industrial district.
Perez has applied for two rezoning considerations. The first would rezone the area into a commercial district and permit multi-family and commercial use. The second would rezone the property into a mixed- use planned development community to align with the city’s master plan.
The overall project calls for two seven-foot, seven-story mid-rise buildings, four two to three low-rise buildings that range from 27.5 to 47.5 ft. as well as an administration building of about 67 ft. high. The buildings would serve commercial and residential purposes with the proposed capacity to contain 284 residential units.
This article originally published in the April 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.