Plan seeks to clear Oaklawn Avenue site for new commercial development

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A proposal that would clear existing commercial structures and homes from a site situated along Oaklawn Avenue, Bateman Avenue and Catherine Street to make way for a new multi-use commercial project will be the focus of a planned weekend site visit from city officials.

The City Council and Planning Commission have scheduled the joint visit for 9 a.m. on Feb. 22, with the parking area of 1500 Oaklawn Ave. designated as the meeting location. The gathering will be open to the public.

A notice for the site visit states that applicant Deborah Clift has proposed “to demolish all existing structures to redevelop the site as a conforming multi-use commercial project.” As part of the plan, the applicant is seeking a Comprehensive Plan amendment and a zoning change to designate the current residential properties as highway commercial.

On Tuesday, Planning Director Jason Pezzullo said the proposal – which is in the pre-application stage before the Development Plan Review Committee – would involve the demolition of three homes on Bateman Avenue and all the existing structures at the site, which includes the former Mardi Gras nightclub building as well as Macera’s Restaurant, Atomic Salon and Humidor Smoke Shop. In essence, he said, the applicant is aiming to “square off the site.”

“It’s a big mix of buildings from different time periods … Everything is slated to be cleared,” Pezzullo said.

In their place, a 1,800-square-foot space for a bank would be constructed within the footprint of the building that is currently closest to Oaklawn Avenue, while a 20,000-square-foot retail space – which would span from the existing rear building to include a portion of the former Mardi Gras space – would also be built.

Pezzullo said a liquor store has been raised as a possibility for the larger space, but “nothing is set in stone.” A variety of retail and commercial uses are allowed under the site’s C-4 highway commercial zoning.

“This is not a special zone, this is not a contract zone,” Pezzullo said. This is just a straight C-4 zone.”

Pezzullo said the Comprehensive Plan amendment and zone change are being sought due to the applicant’s desire to have the larger of the new spaces situated further back on the site, rather than using that portion of the property for parking. Doing so brings the new construction closer to other existing homes, he said – and that led to the decision to hold a site visit.

“That’s what we have to pay special attention to now,” he said, noting that the project could proceed without the amendment and zone change but with the new buildings situated differently on the site.

Pezzullo said the Planning Department has had success with similar joint site visits related to other proposals and projects.

“It really is useful to get out there and walk around and get a sense of it,” he said.

The applicant’s proposals are slated to go before the Planning Commission’s regular meeting in March.

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