Kenner gets new zoning code replacing decades-old rules _lowres

Kenner's Rivertown district as seen from La Salle's Landing on Thursday, March 17, 2016. Qualifying opened on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, for Nov. 8 elections for Kenner mayor, as well as other races in areas just outside New Orleans. (Advocate staff photo by Ramon Antonio Vargas)

Kenner has ditched its nearly four-decade-old zoning code in favor of new rules drawn up over the past six years.

Among the biggest changes in the 300-page Unified Development Code approved unanimously by the Kenner City Council on Thursday is a new requirement that developers meet with nearby property owners about their plans before seeking permission to build.

Another new provision requires prospective developers to demonstrate how their buildings would help the city’s aged drainage infrastructure deal with stormwater runoff.

The new code also provides design guidelines for south Kenner’s Rivertown section, which was designated a historic district more than 30 years ago but has never had ground rules on what architectural motif new construction there should aim for.

“It was very difficult to apply those regulations to newer types of uses and businesses, and we hope this will fix that,” Kenner Planning Director Jay Hebert said Thursday.

The new development code is the result of a process that began in 2010, when the city received $238,000 in federal grant money made available to Louisiana communities striving to be better prepared for natural disasters following hurricanes Gustav and Ike two years earlier.

Some of that money funded an expansion of Kenner’s “Pattern for Progress” master plan, which calls for preserving historic structures while fostering the development of housing that promotes a sense of community, resists hurricane damage, reduces blight and boosts the city’s aesthetics.

The rest went into producing the new code, which Hebert said will be Kenner’s primary tool to make “Pattern for Progress” a reality, replacing an outdated set of zoning rules that had almost 300 fewer relevant definitions and underwent more than 130 revisions since its adoption in 1978.

The stormwater mitigation, early neighborhood notice and Rivertown design rules for developers are similar to zoning regulations in New Orleans, Hebert said.

The code covers many other areas, such as offering incentives for businesses that advertise themselves to passing motorists with tall pylon signs to switch over to eye-level “monument” signs within three years. Pylon signs — found along Williams Boulevard — are visually unappealing and dangerous because they make drivers look up, while monument signs are usually fancier and can be easily seen by motorists with their eyes on the road, Hebert said.

Another new provision seeks to prevent developers from opening used car lots within 1,000 feet of each other, though existing lots can remain in operation.

And for the first time, the code addresses exactly where recreational vehicles and boats can be parked at Kenner residences: in garages, driveways, backyards or sideyards screened off by fences or hedging, thus hiding them from neighbors’ view.

Residents have 12 months to figure out how to properly park their boats and RVs on their property or else put them in storage. The old zoning rules dealt with recreational and camping equipment but not boats and vehicles.

Except for signs, boats and RVs, existing properties not fully in line with the new code will largely be granted “non-conforming” status and left alone. However, if such properties are vacated or closed for more than a year, they lose that status and will need to conform with the new code to reopen or be replaced, Hebert said.

Kenner officials drafted the code in consultation with the University of New Orleans Department of Planning and Urban Studies, while Tulane University’s Regional Urban Design Center helped devise the Rivertown design guidelines.

Officials also solicited input from Kenner residents and business owners at seven public meetings, not counting gatherings with civic associations.

“It’s been well-vetted,” acting Mayor Michael Sigur said of the code. “And it’s time to … implement it.”

On a related topic, the City Council approved a measure Thursday subjecting the owners of rental properties to fines for property code violations by their tenants.

Landlords can avoid the fines by evicting tenants creating blight or by otherwise fixing any problems, the measure sponsored by Councilman Dominick Impastato said.

Impastato said the measure puts rental property owners on an equal footing with homeowners who live on their property and are liable for code violations.