BioDistrict plan goes after Charity, envisions destruction of parts of Mid-City

"Will my house be a park?  Are they going to force me out?  Are they rezoning me?"

Those are the types of questions we've been hearing lately from residents of the 1,500-acre BioDistrict that includes much of Mid-City and Gert Town here in New Orleans as they learn that they live in the enormous footprint.  There's a great deal of uncertainty about the BioDistrict, which covers both the original Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity and VA Hospitals and the two hospital sites in Lower Mid-City.

Mayor Landrieu, (and other people of influence), have made it very public that they support turning 1500 square acres of Lower Mid-City, designated as BioDistrict, inside out in order to make BioTech and BioSciences the economic driving engine for our 300 year old historic city.

While is fully in favor of cultivating and developing BioSciences to create jobs, as well as developing marketing and production infrastructure to capitalize on new medical discoveries and technology to benefit our city and state,, unlike the BioDistrict, proposes using the  vast amount of vacant buildings and land that already exists in order to do so.

Recently, Jim McNamara, the head of BioDistrict New Orleans, unveiled what he called the "consolidated scheme" for the district.  That was interesting because the scheme supposedly incorporates the public input from a lively session that took place at Jesuit High School less than a week earlier.  It involved four different maps. 

We have a number of reservations about this suddenly consolidated plan.  It shows Charity Hospital as a "Allied Health Sciences" facility.  We're not quite sure what that means. While using Charity Hospital for medical and BioScience purposes would be welcomed, we hope that's not just some lip service to those of us who are concerned about the hospital.  The design also shows major development in the area of Lower Mid-City sometimes referred to as Tulane-Gravier.  The neighborhood in the area bounded by S. Galvez, Tulane, S. Broad, and I-10 will likely have to be razed in large part to make way for the large buildings that are shown as planned. 

We're also concerned about the potential for even greater expansion of the already excessively large district.  The scheme showed possible future extensions of the BioDistrict to include Iberville, B.W. Cooper, and the proposed Domain development in the CBD.  It may strike some as shocking that the BioDistrict has the power to "satellite" in other areas of the City - even ones that don't adjoin the current district.  IE: YOUR home or business. Jim Kelly from Providence Community Housing also suggested at the last NEWCITY meeting that the BioDistrict should be expanded into the greater Treme area.  McNamara said that discussions about expansion were underway with the City.  That's not a good idea - the BioDistrict is already far too big and too ambitious!

Our other major concern is the lack of adequate public input about the BioDistrict.  At the January 15, 2011 meeting at Jesuit High School, a number of community members expressed significant concerns about the lack of a neighborhood or community member on the unelected board that governs the BioDistrict.  Additionally, McNamara recently claimed that over 1,000 people have provided input at BioDistrict sessions.  Well, from our experience, that's not accurate.  150 people might be closer to the truth - many of the people who attended the sessions in the fall and the winter were THE SAME PEOPLE over and over again.  And many of those in attendance were people working for the BioDistrict , Bright Moments or AECOM, the planning firm.  There were hardly any residents present to provide input considering the fact that the district has thousands of residents. 

Of those present, great interest was expressed over what drives the GNOBEDD masterplan. At the meeting at Jesuit High School, they said the land use was only projected and subject to change based on the CZO.  However, after weeks of public meetings and a public CPC meeting leading to the approval of the City Masterplan by the City Council, citizens were told that the new CZO would clarify land use but would be built with the land use as a framework. Therefore, land use drives the CZO.  Contrary to what the GNOBEDD is proposing.

We're also concerned about "Bright Moments," the group that's supposed to do the outreach for the BioDistrict and get people to attend meetings.

There are all sorts of other concerns - like how the BioDistrict will even get off the ground if LSU fails to come up with the money necessary to build the Charity replacement hospital (which is supposed to be crucial to the development of the district).  We will continue to watch the BioDistrict closely.

If you live in the BioDistrict and /or share our concerns, please consider attending the next Mid-City Neighborhood Association Meeting taking place at 6:30 PM. - Monday, February 7, 2011. at Grace Episcopal Church at 3700 Canal Street.  GNOBEDD will present their current progress on the BioDistrict Planning.  The Planning Map will be on display to the public at 6pm.

Meanwhile, Charity Hospital sits vacant..... patiently waiting...... for patients.......