John Howell Sr. 9/20/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 20, 2013

Construction, renovation bring out best in our neighborhood

I will drive back to New Orleans today. There’s a circus going on daily, my wife tells me during our phone conversations, and I’m missing it.

There’s the ongoing park construction that started sometime earlier this year in the Wisner Playground across the street. They’re building fine fences to keep separate the folks with romping, loose dogs, from the folks who want to play ball and folks who bring their kids to play at the Kaboom  Playground.

The idea was grew out of a neighborhood public meeting where everybody was allowed to express his or her opinion of who the park should serve and how it should serve them. Then they came up with a plan that must have been designed to try and make everybody happy.

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So far it has succeeded only in making everybody mad, but that judgment may be hasty.

There’s another act for this neighborhood circus over the old firehouse building on the corner. Built in 1910 and designed by architect E. A. Christy. The couple who recently bought it at auction have been writing letters and distributing pamphlets to inform the neighborhood that they want to convert the structure into apartments with perhaps a coffee house on the ground floor.

To do this, they need a zoning change which will be considered by the city planning commission during a public hearing next week.

My wife attended a meeting that the new firehouse owners hosted to try to convince us to support their project.

Everybody agrees that it will be great to have the blighted building renovated. That’s where all agreement ends.

Most are worried about parking. There’s little off-street parking, so most people park on the street in front of their homes. The street, of course, is public property. In theory, anybody has the right to park curbside.

In practice, it’s more or less understood that you don’t park directly in front of someone else’s house, something coffee shop customers might not understand.

There was one neighbor who got so worked up during the firehouse meeting, Rosemary said, that when his very embarrassed wife led him away by the arm, he was still rambling and raving about the parking spot in front of his house.

Another neighbor said that he thought the coffee shop idea was just a ruse to get it rezoned commercial so that the couple could put some less desirable commercial occupant in the space.

(Making the “ruse” even more attractive, Rosemary received this week yet another from the owners, this time stating that they had even selected a name for the coffee shop, “Engine 37,” in deference to the fire equipment once house there. How’s that for instant ambience?)

Others said they didn’t come to the city to park, they came to live. They approved of a coffee shop. A woman who live adjacent to the Kaboom Playground wondered aloud why opponents were so opposed to the coffee shop when it might deter some fo the less desirable loitering that has begun to accrue in the park after dark.

And so on. Rosemary doesn’t drive and could not care less about a place to park. I am among those who will be happy to see anything that improves the stately, yet badly deteriorated building.

And that’s the way things are on Laurel Street where everyone wishes that construction would be completed and life would return to normal. But we probably couldn’t agree on what was normal.