Chalmette’s Todays Ketch expands to adjacent propertiesJun 14th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: News
Of the still-visible reminders of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the dozens of grassy, empty lots surrounding the Murphy Oil Refinery in Chalmette are some of the most stirring.
When Hurricane Katrina sent flood waters crashing through St. Bernard Parish, the water unseated an unlikely surge of oil from the Chalmette refinery, inundating nearby houses and contaminating a well-established, tight-knit neighborhood.
In the months after the storm, Murphy bought out many homeowners surrounding the refinery and created a buffer zone of green space. In large part, the buffer zone remains untouched today – in Murphy’s possession and awaiting a comprehensive plan from the company for redevelopment.
But after a unanimous vote by the St. Bernard Parish Council June 1, one local business owner now has the opportunity to purchase two buffer zone lots on Despaux Drive from Murphy and expand his business south from Judge Perez Drive into the adjacent neighborhood. The sale from Murphy to the business owner was contingent on the lots being rezoned from residential to commercial.
The business owner who sought the zoning change is Jeff Pohlmann, who runs the popular seafood restaurant Today’s Ketch, located at 2110 East Judge Perez Drive. Hurricane Katrina chased Pohlmann and his family to the Northshore, but Pohlmann reopened the Chalmette fixture in the same location.
Now, almost five years later, Today’s Ketch is in its 25th year, and Pohlmann is hoping to purchase two lots at 2500 and 2504 Despaux Drive to expand his successful catering business, JTP Enterprises.
“We are proud of our business and of St. Bernard Parish,” Pohlmann told the parish’s Planning and Zoning Commission March 23, when a public hearing was held on the proposal. “When we pull up with our [catering] equipment, we want it to be nice and shiny. That’s what this building is for.”
Up to now, Pohlmann has been keeping his equipment in an open-air shed immediately behind Today’s Ketch.
“This zoning change is to put a building on these lots for storage only,” Pohlmann assured the board. “I personally think it’s going to improve the appearance of the neighborhood.”
But not all of the neighbors who live near Today’s Ketch and the proposed storage building site feel the same.
“In St. Bernard Parish, we have safe neighborhoods,” Suzanne Kneale, who lives near the restaurant, told the council June 1. “Having safe neighborhoods and growing profitable businesses are not mutually exclusive. … We’re just trying to protect our neighborhood. We’re trying to protect our children and grandchildren.”
From a practical standpoint, Kneale and several other residents who spoke against the zoning change objected to possible increased traffic from the business expansion. They claimed delivery trucks sometimes follow Despaux south to St. Bernard Highway.
Pohlmann, though, insisted deliveries to his business always arrive and depart via Judge Perez Drive.
“So for 25 years they’ve been delivering to your location, and only now it’s an issue?” Council Chair Wayne Landry asked Pohlmann.
Pohlmann assured the council that he never received a complaint about traffic until the zoning change came up.
Of late, residents successfully lobbied to have a sign placed in the neighborhood stating that heavy trucks are prohibited in the residential area.
The residents also challenged the legality of the zoning change, citing two resolutions previously passed by the council. The first resolution, passed April 15, 2008, dealt with a possible zoning change on a Murphy property 2400 E. Judge Perez Drive, the site of the Jacob Drive Fire Station. The resolution recommended that no zoning change take place until Murphy submitted a master plan for both the refinery and the buffer zone.
No such plan has been put forth.
A second ordinance discussed at the June 1 meeting requires that no commercial development extend more than 250 feet into a residential neighborhood. Originally, Pohlmann proposed purchasing three lots along Despaux Drive – well in excess of the 250-foot bounding for commercial development.
Landry questioned whether it would be better for Pohlmann to ask Murphy to divide the second lot to eliminate the portion of the 2504 Despaux lot that would be zoned commercial but not able to be developed.
“If that land was actually to the exact measurement of 250, it [would be] perfectly legal for it to go to C-1,” Landry said.
Jill Dolese, a Today’s Ketch neighbor who lives on Despaux, agreed that a subdivision was needed to satisfy the ordinance.
“If you go into the second lot at all, you only have a little bit,” Dolese said. “You have to subdivide the lot or you’re making an exception to the ordinance.”
The council, though, sought somewhat of a middle ground. Both 2500 and 2504 Despaux were approved for rezoning, but the council expressly limited commercial development to the first 23 feet of the second lot to satisfy the 250 foot limit.
Pohlmann said he plans to pave the remainder of the lot for parking.
The zoning change is also contingent upon the sale of the property to Pohlmann, a fence placed around the property and that no food be stored there.
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