BY: Angela O’Byrne
Perez’s proposed Holy Cross Development has generated a great deal of media engagement and speculation over the past few weeks, regarding the company, the project and myself. Most recently, The Lens published an opinion piece by Roberta Gratz, entitled “So what if Holy Cross towers defy the zoning code — it’s only the Lower Ninth.” Given the circumstances, I think it is important that I write in my own defense against these allegations, and address the outright falsities that have been spread about my company, its work and myself. We are all entitled to our own opinion; but spreading false information to support one’s opinion is unethical, and distracts from the real issues.
The article includes a discussion of “authentic community opposition,” which I do not discredit. However, there is also authentic community support, which in the article, was belittled by claims that the project’s supporters are receiving payments for their attendance at committee hearings. This is completely false. There are hundreds of genuine supporters surrounding this project, as confirmed by circulating petitions in favor of this development. Many residents took the time out of their workday to express approval to the City Planning Commission, and the HDLC. No article can change that.
To post outdated renderings of the development, call the actions of my company and myself “thoughtless,” and claim the community is being ignored, is a clear indication that the author of this article did not complete an adequate amount of research.
Since the conception of this development in 2012 Perez, APC has attended 6 ARC hearings, 5 meetings with Lower Ninth Ward residents, 3 meetings with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association Board of Directors, 2 HDLC hearings, 2 Planning Advisory Committee meetings, 2 meetings with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and Lower 9 Vision Coalition, 1 meeting with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, 1 City Planning Commission hearing, 1 meeting with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association Chairman of Board, 1 meeting with the Lower Ninth Ward Strategic Shareholders Coalition,1 meeting with the Lower Ninth Ward Clergy, and countless other meetings between staff, members of the community and the city.
In short, I was too consumed redesigning the Holy Cross Development plans and attending actual meetings to “stage phony meetings” as the author claims.
The writer suggests that Perez plans to “shred the Master Plan that is supposed to guide the city’s post-Katrina recovery.” This is an absurd assumption, as I spent a great deal of my time helping to draft the City Master Plan, as did many other local architects, urban planners, engineers, and real-estate developers. The Master Plan, and the proposed comprehensive zoning ordinance both increased density in locations of every neighborhood throughout Orleans Parish.
In addition, my co-workers and I have worked and volunteered both tirelessly and passionately on many projects across the city post-Katrina. Like many other New Orleans businesses, the year following Katrina was one of great hardship for the firm. Of 25 projects, 23 were cancelled. We lost all of our staff except for one part-time bookkeeper. For over a year, our small team often worked 80 hours a week volunteering with recovery organizations, doing pro bono work for local non-profits, and providing free design services for dozens of homeowners.
The assumption that the company will be excluding Lower 9th residents from onsite jobs is false. An open forum has already been set up on revivelower9.com, where residents are prompted to identify themselves, their businesses, or skill set, and submit letters of interest. This feature has already created a database of contacts, which will allow Perez to easily hire locals for the construction and maintenance of the Development once that stage has been reached.
I have not ignored alternative plans developed by the Tulane City Center, the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association or Lower 9 Vision Coalition. Acres and acres of parks and green space would be a dream. However, from a business standpoint, maintaining a park of that size is not financially feasible, and would cost more than the land alone. It would be irresponsible to purchase land without designing a means to pay the cost back.
Though some prefer single family homes, recent studies have shown that there is a local demand for multi-unit rental housing options with the type of amenities this development will offer. I can personally attest to this, as my daughter and I were on the waiting lists of every major multi-unit apartment building in the city for over 6 months.
Furthermore, this project will not compete with, or destroy the other improvements happening in the area, such as restoration of single family homes, and smaller commercial projects. Rather, it will serve as a catalyst for further economic and community development.
Adding families, jobs, and activity to the area in a thoughtful, yet expedient manner will spur the redevelopment of existing blighted housing, along with other vacant lots in the area, and attract businesses and retail. As an architect, I am obligated to design for functionality and livability. With an estimated national population increase of 60 million over the next 20 years, the pressure for development like this is everywhere.
This article suggests that Perez staff and I care little for the wellbeing of the Lower 9th Ward. Perez is pouring commitment, labor, and funds into the Holy Cross neighborhood – how can this be perceived as anything but passionate? I am a life-long resident of New Orleans, and have resided in many neighborhoods of this city. I can say without inhibition that I believe in the recovery of the Lower 9th Ward so much that I am staking everything I have on it. Perez will not disappear as developers have in the past. Our assets are being allocated into the neighborhood because we are here to stay, and ensure that the Lower 9th Ward receives the attention it needs to recover.
Angela O’Byrne, President of Perez, APC