A developer abruptly withdrew plans to turn a historic school building into a hotel in the middle of a Planning and Zoning Board meeting.
Jim MacPhaille, a New Orleans developer who now owns a restaurant and several other buildings and businesses in the Bay, said he didn't want to fight with neighbors of the Spanish revival building, which was built in the 1920s and first housed Bay High School.
"The problem with the property is half of it is residential, half of it is commercial," he said. "It doesn't have enough acreage to go under a special use district. Look, I don't want to fight with my neighbors."
So that means the school, vacant since it was damaged by Katrina, will sit empty a while longer.
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"We started presenting the project and they didn't like the hotel idea," MacPhaille said. "So I have 26 other projects that have proper zoning and I'm just going to fool with those."
Attorney Leonard Blackwell, who represented two of the neighbors at last week's meeting, said MacPhaille's plans were too vague to allay their concerns.
Those neighbors live in well-kept homes bordered by picket fences a couple of blocks from downtown. MacPhaille wanted to turn his property, a city block, into a special use district so he could convert the school into a 70-room boutique hotel. But, he didn't meet all the requirements for that change.
"It looked like a project that could have some good features to it, if he could come back and do it the way the law requires," Blackwell said. "He gave a list of uses but didn't pin any of them down or have square footage, number of restaurant seats ... and parking.
"People were concerned about traffic. He was talking about a banquet hall, using the gymnasium. It was just a little too much on the unknown side, so to speak."
MacPhaille said it is up to the city to decide what it wants to allow at the school, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a Mississippi Landmark property. And changes to the property would require a permit from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It also is in the city's Historic District.
"It's really something for the city to figure out if it wants that property rezoned or fixed so somebody can develop it," he said. "I just don't want to fight with my neighbors."
Blackwell said the neighbors weren't opposed to a project, as long as they know exactly what's being planned.
"I don't know that the residents with the right kind of a condominium project would resist that," he said. "Or maybe even if there was a boutique as long as it didn't have too many rooms.
"Maybe they needed some meetings with residents to communicate with them. The worst thing you can do is not knowing, the fear of the unknown. It's an established neighborhood and they want to keep that character. They've put a lot into their homes."