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New Orleans planning panel declines Ditta's temporary concrete plant

Apr, 12 2012


(New Orleans, Louisiana)  --  The New Orleans City Planning Commission voted 5-1 Thursday against a request to allow a temporary concrete batching plant on part of the vacant 26-acre site in the Lower Garden District where the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center once planned to build a giant expansion. The final decision will be up to the City Council.

The temporary plant would occupy a 2.8-acre site in the block bounded by Tchoupitoulas, Race, South Peters and Orange streets.

The site is catty-corner across the street from an existing 1.9-acre concrete batching plant at 1585 Tchoupitoulas St. operated by Carlo Ditta Inc. At a batching plant, all the ingredients necessary to form concrete are mixed together except for water.

The Ditta firm said adding the temporary plant would help it handle the unusually high demand for ready-mix concrete generated by construction of the new Veterans Affairs Medical Center and two major box-culvert drainage projects on Napoleon and South Claiborne avenues. The temporary plant would operate for 18 months to two years.

The proposed plant would include sand and gravel storage areas, two 61-foot-high cement silos, four 55-foot-high silos, six truck loading areas, a temporary office and a parking area. All would be removed after two years.

The site formerly was zoned for industrial uses but now is zoned MU-A, meaning it can be used for a mix of residential, office, hotel and commercial retail uses, but not for industrial plants without a special conditional-use permit.

Plans for the Convention Center expansion were put on hold after Hurricane Katrina and scrapped in August 2007, but the center still owns the land. If the temporary plant is approved, the center would lease the site to Ditta.

Joey Ditta, vice president of the Ditta firm, said having the extra batching plant would let the company supply concrete to the VA hospital site and the other major projects more efficiently. Without it, he said, the company would have to expand operations at its existing plant across the street and at other plants in eastern New Orleans and on the West Bank, meaning its trucks would have to travel farther to the construction sites.

He said the company has been told there is no room at the hospital site to set up a temporary batching plant, as is sometimes done with very large construction projects, but Arlen Brunson of the planning staff said the hospital site is large enough to accommodate a temporary plant.

Ditta said the company wants to divert truck traffic off Tchoupitoulas Street and avoid increasing the number of trucks traveling to and from the existing plant. It now operates 15 mixing trucks out of that plant, he said.

The proposal drew opposition from several nearby residents, who said they feared it would increase noise, traffic and air pollution problems in the neighborhood. They also warned it would scare away other commercial development, such as major retailers reportedly contemplating opening stores at the nearby site of the former Market Street power plant.

Louis Koerner, a lawyer, said opening of the current batching plant 14 years ago was "a disaster for the neighborhood" that led to the demolition of many old houses after residents moved away because of problems caused by the concrete plant.

Koerner alleged that the current plant won city permission to operate only "through stealth and political influence," but Ditta said Koerner's lawsuit challenging the plant was dismissed and he should "get over it."

In a letter to the commission, Robert Wolf, president of the Coliseum Square Association, said the group's board voted to oppose the Ditta request because it was "a completely inappropriate request" for an "eyesore that does nothing to enhance the quality of life in our neighborhood."

The planning commission's staff recommended denial of the application, saying it would not be consistent with the city's master plan. The staff said "the temporary use request would serve more as a convenience for the applicant," because the site is adjacent to its existing plant, "rather than for the best interest of the general public."

Commissioner Lou Volz said he thought the proposed plant would have "a significant negative impact" on the Lower Garden District, where he lives. Joining him in voting to reject the request were George Amedee, Kelly Brown, Pamela Bryan and Lois Carlos-Lawrence. Chairman Craig Mitchell voted in favor, saying the plant would facilitate construction of important projects that would benefit the entire city. Poco Sloss did not vote.

The site is in Councilwoman Stacy Head's district, but if Head wins the April 21 runoff for an at-large seat, she might no longer represent the district by the time the council considers the issue.

By:  Bruce Eggler



SOURCE:  www.nola.com

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