Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Perez land grab in Holy Cross

In the coming weeks, New Orleans City Council will be deciding on the fate of the former Holy Cross school site for which the neighborhood is named.  Perez APC has an agreement to purchase the property with the hopes of building a series of tall residential buildings along the river.  Their first proposal was for 13 stories, the latest is for 7.  Current zoning limits them to 40 feet, which is where the neighborhood would like to remain.  Working with Tulane City Center, the neighborhood came up with three alternate proposals to develop the property without the need for a change in zoning.  Perez is not interested.  

In spite of their lack of vision and funding, Perez has begun aggressively pushing for the zoning change, which would remain with the property even if they decided to sell it.  To gain "support," they have contracted with a number of questionable entities:

1.  Blair Boutte, a bail bondsman and convicted murderer, who offered them his services in identifying supportive "neighbors" in exchange for $30,000 plus expenses.

2.  Velocity, a new Orleans firm that has put together a sloppy social media campaign using fake Facebook profiles and testimonials from people who don't actually live in the neighborhood.  

3.  FDG Creative, a company that specializes in mobilizing support, "online and in person," to help create the appearance of community support for developer projects.  

The past two years has seen a remarkable surge in renovation and population of the Holy Cross neighborhood, where I have lived since 2007.  And the residents would love to see something happen on the site of the former school.  Abandoned my the Brothers of Holy Cross after Katrina, the school ground have sat unused since then, after an unusual deal in which the Brothers were able to get FEMA to fund a brand new campus, yet also retain their old, unused land.  They have been trying to maximize their profits ever since, with a series of development proposals that would, in earlier incarnations, rise as high as 13 stories or even create a gated community with its own neighborhood association within our neighborhood.  

Because of this history, Perez has realized it is vital to create the illusion of neighborhood support.  They have even launched a series of videos featuring testimonials from people you might assume are representatives of the neighborhood--yet they don't even live here.  Their astroturf grassroots website talks about inclusion and wanting to hear from people--yet they don't respond to emails and have banned many of us from asking questions on their Facebook page.  

Normally, in a situation like this, a community would be able to count on their councilperson to represent them. But our council member is James Gray, a lawyer and associate of Blair Boutte.  Gray is also now in the process of being disbarred.  And he only received 38% of the vote in the Lower Ninth Ward, winning his seat with support from New Orleans East.  He has already made it clear that he sides with the outside developer.  

The petition to support the neighborhood is here:

Here are some other reports to consider:

From The Atlantic

From The Lens

Neighbors speaking with Angela Hill on WWL Radio

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