A New Orleans developer planning a multi-story condominium project at the River end of Oak Street said he is committed to working closely with neighborhood groups who have raised questions about the look and size of the proposed building.
George Fowler IV is looking to build a 24-unit condominium complex with ground-floor retail and parking on three vacant lots at 8610 Oak St. The high-density development is a first for Fowler, who said he mainly builds single-family homes in the Uptown area.
“This is a project I have been considering for quite some time,” Fowler said. “I had been targeting properties on both Oak and Freret streets because of the resurgence of the two streets. I think both neighborhoods could benefit from a project that brings more residents to the streets and more customers to the business there.”
Under Fowler’s current plan, the Oak Lofts development would consist of a five-story building with 24 two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos that would sell between $285,000 to $385,000. He said he opted for condos over apartments because condos were economically more feasible and would allow for nicer finishes than a typical rental.
The building’s bottom floor would consist of about 3,000-square-feet commercial space, which Fowler would like to lease to a gym for residents and the public.
The ground floor parking lot would include 46 spaces — one for each unit, 10 for the commercial space and 12 more to be sold to condo owners or reserved for guest parking. Fowler said the final parking count hinges on neighborhood feedback.
Fowler said he has applied for conditional use permits from the city to move the project forward. As part of the application process, he is required to meet with and collect input from neighborhood groups and nearby residents. He said he has
sent more than 500 letters to residents and met with civic groups in the neighborhood.
“I definitely want something that will fit into that neighborhood,” Fowler said. “I want something that everyone will be satisfied with and support in the end.”
Jerry Speir, chairman of the zoning committee for the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association, said the group generally supports the idea of putting more residents on the street, but members have raised concerns about the overall size and height variances of the building, which would be the largest on the street.
The proposed height of the building is 56 feet, six feet taller than the maximum for the neighborhood.
“We have seen updated drawings that show the front of the building, but I think many of us would like to see what it would look like from the side and the back,” Speir said. “It is still going to be a big hulking building.”
Speir said the concerns from residents are some of the same issues that were raised when a similar three-story, 12-unit development in the 8400 block of Oak was built in 2007.
“That building was planned a little higher but eventually came down,” he said. “Regardless of size, the building has had a positive impact on the street and we think another one like it could bring further benefit.”
Ralph Driscoll, president of the Oak Street Merchants, Residents and Property Owners Association, said many in his group have spoken out in favor of the project because of what it could do for foot traffic and property values.
“There is a waiting list of people looking for property on Oak,” Driscoll said. “I’ve been on the street 20 years and the real estate has never been more popular.”
Driscoll said he and other merchants have appreciated Fowler’s honesty and his consideration of all suggestions regarding the look and size of the property. Merchants on the street want Oak Street to maintain its small-town feel, he added.
“We actually get a lot of tourists who always comment about the quaintness of the area,” Driscoll said. “If the development is something that has that curb appeal, it will be successful. I don’t think he will have a hard time filling it. People want to be living in this area.”
Fowler said the project is ready to move forward once he and architect Charles Neyrey of M2 Studio finish the final design plan. He hopes to put the project out for bid in the next 60 days and start construction by May. On that timeline, the project would be complete by February 2015.