Earlier this month, Harbor Acres resident Joyce Cloutier began posting yard signs designed to send a message to a neighbor: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
So far, about 90 signs have gone up in Hudson Bayou, Avondale and other surrounding neighborhoods bearing the words “Selby Gardens not Selby Garage.” The yard signs are a signal of ongoing frustration from residents who say Selby’s $67 million campus master plan would cause problems for those living around the 15-acre property.
In addition to concerns about increased traffic, those who object to the proposed renovations have focused on the scale of a 75-foot-tall parking garage at the northeast corner of the site.
“There’s zoning for a reason,” Cloutier said. “This doesn’t belong where they’re putting it.”
Selby officials have been responding to questions regarding the scope of the master plan since 2017, when the organization first publicly shared the proposal. Selby President and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki said the garden has made notable adjustments to the original master plan, including reducing the footprint of the parking garage and committing private funds toward public traffic and pedestrian improvements.
Although Cloutier said residents believe there has been a lack of give-and-take regarding the plans, Rominiecki said Selby has gone out of its way to solicit community input as it pursues a project on its private property.
“We as an organization have done everything we can to incorporate the feedback of our neighbors while still accomplishing Selby Gardens’ core needs,” Rominiecki said.
Residents immediately surrounding Selby Gardens failed to earn an endorsement from a larger group March 2. At a meeting of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, the organization did not pass a resolution “urging the city to deny approval of the master plan until certain incompatibilities and traffic impacts are resolved.”
Rominiecki thought the reason that resolution failed, despite advocacy from surrounding residents, is because Selby officials were present to respond to the assertion the garden had not been responsive to concerns.
“The fact that the CCNA resolution did not pass really illustrates that Selby Gardens, we’ve done our part to be a good neighbor,” Rominiecki said.
At least one resident has disputed the notion that those living around the project are united in opposition to the plan. In a Feb. 14 email to city commissioners, Harbor Acres resident Bill McComb claimed project opponents did not speak for the entire neighborhood and offered his endorsement of the plans.
McComb’s wife, Marianne, is a member of the Selby Gardens board of trustees. In October, Selby named Marianne and Bill McComb as leadership contributors to the fundraising campaign associated with the master plan.
A poll of members of the Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association indicated concern about the project among those who responded. In March, the group announced 85% of respondents wanted the association to pursue issues related to traffic, the garage and noise with Selby leaders. The association said 25% of its members responded to the survey.
Rominiecki said Selby Gardens remains open to a dialogue with its neighbors and will update residents as plans progress. At this point, key details such as the scale of the garage are unlikely to change. Still, Selby believes even those critical of the project might be more receptive if they get first-hand information about the plan.
“The most important thing to Selby Gardens is to make sure the accurate information about the project is out there,” Rominiecki said.
Some residents, meanwhile, are collecting funds to craft a legal argument against the project as it goes before the city for review. Others, such as Cloutier, are working together to make sure city officials are aware of their ardent opposition to the master plan in its current form.
“It’s a grassroots effort,” Cloutier said. “We’re doing it with virtually no money against lots of money, but we’re doing it to preserve our neighborhoods.”