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Viewpoint: What's a coastline worth?

Bicyclists enjoying the view from Holy Cross.

Bicyclists enjoying the view from Holy Cross.

When I was a college student here in New Orleans, I rarely thought about the river. It was over there in Audubon Park. I might bicycle to the levee for a picnic or to fly a kite.

Ironically, though one of the world’s grandest rivers is at our doorstep, it is rarely visible to most residents. There’s the “fly,” the “moonwalk,” and, thankfully, Crescent Park in Bywater, where residents can walk beside the mighty Mississippi. It is our coastline.

Now, one of the treasured pieces of riverside land is being targeted by large-scale development. The former Holy Cross High School campus in the Lower Ninth Ward has had open access to the bend in the river with a view of the Crescent City Connection bridge, skyline and French Quarter. Residents walk, jog and watch Fourth of July fireworks from that stretch of levee. But developers want to rezone and build multi-story apartment buildings next to the levee in the middle of a neighborhood of one-story cottages, shotgun houses and other historic homes in Holy Cross. The construction requires a change of the height limits and violates the current limit of 40 feet. Residents have other ideas. (The Lens reports on the latest developments in the controversy here.)

When I moved to California in the 1970s, I was in awe of the state’s unspoiled coastline. I had lived in Florida, where lack of planning had allowed its beaches to be carved up with ugly hotels and T-shirt shops. The tropical paradise where my mother grew up was long gone.

Northern California residents rose up to oppose developers who wanted to create a planned community on the magnificent Marin hillsides. A grassroots campaign protected the San Francisco headlands, Bolinas Bay and my favorite place on Earth, Point Reyes. A single congressman spearheaded the protections and eventually convinced President Nixon to declare 85 miles of coastline a National Recreation Area for everyone to explore and enjoy.

The Holy Cross developers say there’s no money for a park; we must have progress at all costs. But it all depends on how you define progress.

I say, where there is a will, there is a way. This issue has become so contentious that neither City Planning nor the Historic District Landmarks Commission would decide it. Now, it is up to our representatives in City Council. The zoning question had been scheduled for Thursday's City Council meeting, but now has been deferred for two weeks. That gives you time to let Council members know how you feel. I'm telling them not to allow a zoning change that would deprive us all of this precious shoreline.

Mary Rickard has been a regular contributor to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate, as well as newspapers and wire services in other locales. Feel free to send her comments or critiques at [email protected]