Saturday, February 09, 2019

It's just a kind of hotel license

I swear it wasn't very long ago that we were all sold on the absolutely urgent need to build new, dense, high rise housing in downtown New Orleans.  After all the city was in the midst of a housing crisis. There was land sitting vacant on relatively high ground in the CBD.  We had all of these tax subsidies, HUD grants and CDBG money to pass around to developers. It was time to make some stuff.

Of course all we did with all of that was build luxury housing for rich people and tourists in the form of a trendy neighborhood created out of whole cloth. But that was fine, we were told.  As long as we were building in more "housing supply" downtown, the benefits would trickle down market eventually.  This is what we were told even after the wholesale demolition of public housing had put the supply of affordable units at a significant deficit.

Anyway here we are in 2019 and we're still in a housing crisis.  Meanwhile the nice things we built for rich people and tourists are juicing the market for.. even more nice things for rich people and tourists.
Preservationists Mike and Bettye Duplantier bought a run-down historic town house at 820 Baronne in 1978 and enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood’s transition from skid row to prime South Market District real estate. Little did they know that 40 years later a well-meaning young couple would dream of converting the spacious adjoining town house at 822 Baronne into a 10 to 12-room boutique hotel with lobby bar and courtyard. Both buildings share a common attic.

McEnergy Residential broker Ashley Scurria immediately recognized 822 Baronne as a worthwhile development project for her and husband Stuart, regional sales consultant for KLS Martin. Partnering with his parents Dr. Mark and DeAnn Scurria and contractor David Fusilier of Perle Construction, LLC, Scurria is seeking the necessary zoning change to re-purpose the historic 4100 square foot structure with the highest and best use in mind. The building falls within CBD-5 zoning. Hotel occupancy is permitted as a Conditional Use per the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO). The zoning designation also permits the operation of a short term rental (STR).

That's Danae Columbus with the "skid row to prime" characterization, just in case that gave you the same giggle I had.  She does mention later in the column that she owns property in the area herself so we can understand she has some interest in exaggerating the value of her investment there.   You're probably also snickering at the story of how a real estate broker with help from her in-laws went and bootstrapped herself up an opportunity. But let's leave that aside.  

The real reason I'm flagging this in the first place is what it says about the way developers view short term rental permits.  
Scurria’s company, 822 Baronne LLC, hired the architectural firm Concordia to assist them through the process. A boutique hotel was not Scurria’s first choice, Concordia explained to interested property owners at a Neighborhood Participation Program (NPP) meeting on Tuesday. While Scurria plans to utilize every square foot of available space to maximize financial viability, she would have preferred to operate a short term rental (STR). Based on the building’s “bones,” Concordia drew up a development plan that included 12 bedrooms. The maximum number of sleeping rooms allowed under STR regulations for a single structure is 9. The city designates any building with 10 or more bedrooms as a hotel, said Concordia.
It wasn't very long ago we were all sold on the urgent need to liberalize short term rental permissions. After all, the city was in the midst of a housing crisis. And we were told that STRs were going to help provide New Orleanians the extra revenue they needed to "stay in their homes" or something like that. But it turns out, in practice, it's just a different kind of hotel permit.  Because, even during a housing crisis, developers still only want to build nice things for rich people and tourists.

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