Williams obtains injunction for Vieux Carré Commission Foundation
May 17, 2017
Sharonda Williams is representing the Vieux Carré Commission Foundation in a lawsuit that it filed against the City of New Orleans last week after the New Orleans City Council approved plans for a family restaurant over the objections of French Quarter preservationists.
The Vieux Carré Commission was founded in the 1930s to protect and preserve the historic French Quarter’s architecture, character, and zoning integrity. The Vieux Carré Commission Foundation’s mission is “to support and further the cause and constitutional charge of the Vieux Carré Commission.” Read about the Vieux Carré Commission Foundation here. http://vccfoundation.org/
The lawsuit, the first in the Vieux Carre Commission Foundation’s history, argues the City Council sidestepped the Vieux Carré Commission’s regulatory authority when it independently approved the conversion of a Bourbon street property to a family restaurant. The plans for the restaurant include a new third story and rooftop terrace. The Vieux Carré Commission would have required the property owner to satisfy certain criteria. By approving the plans without the Vieux Carré Commission’s input, the lawsuit argues, the City Council erodes the historic district’s protections and the Vieux Carré Commission’s authority. Read about the lawsuit here.
On May 17, 2017, the Civil District Court entered a preliminary injunction, barring the property owner from proceeding with the contested plans. Read about the injunction here.
In a victory for French Quarter preservationists, plans to replace a vacant two-story Bourbon Street strip club with a three-story restaurant were blocked Tuesday while a lawsuit against the project plays out.
Public trust in the Vieux Carre Commission would be eroded if the New Orleans City Council’s March approval of the new restaurant — granted before the VCC could review plans for the third story — is allowed to stand, Civil District Court Judge Paulette Irons ruled in issuing an injunction against the work.
Allowing the project to proceed would set a bad precedent, the judge added, echoing arguments made by the Vieux Carre Commission Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports the VCC and that sued the council, the city and the restaurant’s owner last month over the project.
Developers could say, “If this prevails, I really don’t have to pay close attention to the VCC,” Irons said. “To hell with the VCC … I’m going to the City Council.”
Preservationists accused the building’s owner, a company known as Cajun 411, of sidestepping normal protocol. While it was by no means the first time that tensions between preservationists and developers over projects in the French Quarter have led to public battles, it was the first time the VCC Foundation waged a legal battle to protect the commission’s interests.
The case involved an attempt to replace a former strip club once accused of being a magnet for drug dealing and prostitution, Centerfolds, at 411 Bourbon, with a more family-friendly option.
Cajun 411 is owned by restaurateur Wassek Badr, who also operates Oceana Grill on Conti Street and Bobby Hebert’s Cajun Cannon Restaurant in Metairie.
The foundation sued in April, shortly after a majority of the council agreed to hear and approve Badr’s appeal of the VCC’s deferral of his proposal to build a third story atop the planned restaurant.
Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents the Quarter, said city and state laws allow applicants to appeal even a “failure to act” by the VCC to the council.
Daniel Davillier, Badr’s attorney, cited those laws in his argument Tuesday to Irons. Without them, he said, projects could be caught in “an impossible, perpetual deferral paradigm” and be stalled for years.
To get an injunction, he said, the foundation had to prove that it would suffer irreparable harm if work continued, something he said it could not do.
If Irons were to rule later that the design of the third story was improper, Cajun could be compelled to remove it, added Bernard “Bunny” Charbonnet, another Cajun attorney.
But the foundation’s attorney, Sharonda Williams, said the council’s approval infringed on the VCC’s mission to protect and preserve the French Quarter’s architecture, historic character and zoning integrity.
She said that Badr had turned in an entirely different set of plans for his restaurant to the VCC at the last minute, giving the commission no time to properly review his project before he went to the council, crying foul.
What’s more, his third-floor addition goes against VCC guidelines, she said.
In granting a preliminary injunction to block work on the project’s third story, Irons cited the last-minute submissions by Badr and the need to preserve the VCC’s authority.
She also said it was hard to believe that Cajun would pull down the third story once it had gone up.
No date for a trial on the suit has been set.
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