New setback for Holy Cross neighborhood development over 'paper streets'

By Elizabeth Young | Mar 28, 2013

Kevin G. Heigle

NEW ORLEANS – A recent survey has rediscovered streets that may belong to the city on Holy Cross School’s historic campus.

Holy Cross College Inc. is seeking a declaratory judgement against the City of New Orleans, according to a case filed in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Jan. 29.

The issue arose pending the controversial sale of of the land where Holy Cross’s historic, pre-Katrina campus stood. According to court documents, a title examiner has required that the “paper streets” which run through the property be declared to be owned by Holy Cross, free and clear of any and all claims by the city.

The paper streets mentioned in the documents are streets that were never actually built but which may have been dedicated to the city. In this case, portions of Chartres, Royal and Tennessee streets would run directly through the former site of the high school. The paper streets were first mentioned in a 2009 survey by BFM Corporation, but the history of the land goes back much further.

Holy Cross College Inc. acquired the land from the Louisiana Congregation of the Holy Cross July 21, 1948. The congregation acquired it in 1859. The initial description of the land was in “two tracts of land running from the river to the eighty apparent line” and no streets or squares were referred to in these documents.

The suit claims that any possible existence of the paper streets is based on a general plan of the city by Claude d’Hemecourt, commissioned in 1856. However, because d’Hemecourt did not complete the plans on time the city never accepted or paid for them.

Holy Cross claims that the plan was not an actual survey, but a general plan that was to include “every future street through properties which are now undivided by said City.”

The d’Hemecourt plan did not dictate a dedication of all the streets it shows. Holy Cross used the property as a campus from 1859 until Hurricane Katrina.

This is the latest setback for the school which has been trying to sell the land since moving to a Gentilly campus. Holy Cross originally planned to sell the campus to Greencoast Enterprises, which wanted to build a full service supermarket and affordable housing for teachers on the site. The plan fell apart in February 2012 when Greencoast could not secure financing for the $ 2.1 million  campus.

The school did sell the former baseball field to New Orleans Baptist Ministries, which says it wants to build a medical clinic on the site. A spokesman for the hospital, quoted by, said the clinic is still several years away.

Perez architects signed a purchase agreement for the land originally to be purchased by Greencoast in August 2012. It was in the process of closing on this sale that the paper streets were discovered.

Perez’s plans for the land, including a 180-unit riverfront apartment building with a peak height of 132 feet, have earned disdain from residents of the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. In fact, members of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association voted unanimously to oppose the plans during a Feb. 21 meeting. The association had signed off on three previous plans by a different architectural firm.

The vice president of the association, Sarah DeBacher, is quoted by The Lens as saying:“What we were presented last night was hugely different from what was narrowly approved four years ago.”

Other members expressed concern about the height of the buildings and the density of people it will bring.

Perez needs to change the zoning of part of the land in order to incorporate planned commercial buildings. The meeting before the City Planning Commission is scheduled for April 9 but final approval would require a vote of the city council.

Holy Cross must also be granted a declaratory judgment by the court granting it the ownership of the paper streets before the development can move forward.

The plaintiff is represented by Kevin G. Heigle, E. John Litchfield and Arthur S. Mann III of Berrigan, Litchfield, Schonekas, Mann & Traina LLC

The case has been assigned to Division N Judge Ethel S. Julien.

Case No. 2013-00917.

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