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Controversy brewing in Spanish Town over proposed apartment complex

Spanish Town residents are expressing concern over an apartment complex a team of developers may build in the historic downtown neighborhood.

At the April 18 meeting of the Historic Spanish Town Civic Association, New Orleans urban designer Andrew Baque presented his proposal for what could ultimately become a 72-unit multifamily complex, according to several residents who attended the meeting. Baque is proposing the project along with local developer Steve Duplechain, who is currently completing The Elias, a 26-unit building in nearby Beauregard Town. The project, should it move forward, would be built on a vacant lot bordered by Lakeland Drive, Whitaker Avenue, Arsenal Park Apartments and Capitol Alley, running all the way to the lake.

Duplechain says he and Baque are still exploring whether to move forward with the Spanish Town project but they have been conducting feasibility studies. Those studies show the development would ideally be around 72 units, though it could be larger or smaller, depending on zoning, traffic and economic considerations.

The developers have yet to purchase the property, but Duplechain says they will likely close on the site next week.

Though the proposed Spanish Town complex is in the preliminary stages, residents of the neighborhood are already concerned. For one, they say the proposal they’ve heard lacks specifics. Also, they’re worried about the impact a multifamily development would have on the area’s traffic, drainage and parking, the latter of which is already limited.

Though she does not oppose the construction of an apartment complex per se, 30-year Spanish Town resident Mary Jane Marcantel, who attended the meeting, says she wants to ensure developers respect the character and feel of the neighborhood. That means working within the parameters of the area’s historic designation, she says.

“When I came to Spanish Town, people thought those of us who chose to live there were crazy, but the people who lived there decided that we wanted it to be something,” Marcantel says. “So we did things to make it something. And guess what? It is something.”

Duplechain says he has reached out to the Downtown Development District, the Mayor’s office and some Metro Council members about the development. He says he has also consulted with traffic engineers to address potential traffic issues.

“We’re attempting to get input from all stakeholders so that we can approach the potential development in an appropriate way,” he says.

Officials at the Planning Commission say they’re already receiving inquiries from residents about the project, even though they have not received a formal proposal yet from Duplechain and Baque.

The brewing controversy is reminiscent of a similar debate that erupted in the 200-year-old neighborhood in 2009, when the HSTCA board opposed the 115-unit Capitol Lofts project, which developer David Slaughter was trying to develop on property owned by Richard Preis. The project would have required rezoning in the neighborhood, which ultimately was denied at the Metro Council level.

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