New Orleans City Council members pull back controversial proposals on rezoning green space, creating restrictions on alcohol, entertainment at restaurants _lowres

Nadine Ramsey

New Orleans City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, under fire from several neighborhood groups for her proposals to loosen some restrictions on alcoholic beverage outlets and entertainment venues both inside her district and citywide, said Tuesday that she intends to withdraw three of the four most controversial propositions.

The proposed amendments to the city’s newly enacted comprehensive zoning ordinance have been panned by nearly two dozen neighborhood organizations, whose leaders said they would diminish the quality of life in their communities.

Ramsey is pulling the plug on amendments that would have allowed standard restaurants citywide to sell packaged liquor; allowed live entertainment in all French Quarter restaurants and courtyards; deleted requirements that alcohol beverage outlets submit plans showing how close they are to schools and churches; and removed the maximum square footage for a “holding bar,” typically a small bar in a restaurant where patrons can drink while waiting for tables.

The amendments appear on Thursday’s City Council agenda as NMR-12, NMR-14 and NMR-17.

Ramsey said she decided to withdraw the amendments so her staff can have more time to review them. They could be revised and reintroduced at a later date, but Ramsey said it would not be a top priority with budget season approaching.

“I may bring them back, but it will certainly be after we’ve had discussions and input,” she said. “I just want to look at some issues and make a decision about whether or not they should move forward and what’s the best way to do it.”

The proposals have been criticized particularly by leaders of French Quarter residential organizations, who derided them as too business-friendly and insensitive to the needs of residents.

“When taken together, it is clear that the cumulative effect would drastically alter the delicate balance of businesses coexisting within New Orleans neighborhoods by allowing the proliferation and expansion of alcoholic beverage outlets and entertainment venues without adequate public input or review,” French Quarter critics of the proposals wrote in an analysis of the amendments.

Separately, the Preservation Resource Center, on behalf of the presidents of 22 neighborhood groups, called on Ramsey and her City Council colleagues in a Monday letter to withdraw the four controversial amendments.

Some of the discontent resulted from the way the amendments were introduced. They were presented on the same day in May that the City Council considered the new CZO. That is within the bounds of the law, which does not set a deadline for submitting changes to an ordinance, but residents said they felt blindsided and suspected that Ramsey was trying to sneak amendments in under their noses.

“Amendments were not properly vetted in a public process where community input was garnered, which is contrary to the years of planning to produce CZO language,” the PRC letter said.

“They were not sneaked in. They were not beyond a deadline date,” Ramsey said Tuesday. “There was no intent to do anything bad for the city or for the district.”

Ramsey said her goal was to help businesses in her district and beyond. But after listening to comments from residents, she said, she wants to make sure they won’t wreak unintended havoc, such as creating “too much growth” in the French Quarter.

“Some of the changes are not major, but if people create a sense that it’s going to drive them out of their neighborhoods, then I feel an obligation to look at them and make sure I cover every base,” she said.

Ramsey is not withdrawing all of the controversial amendments she proposed.

An amendment changing the definition of a standard restaurant to delete a phrase stipulating that the offering of alcoholic beverages must be “incidental” to the serving of food still is on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

Opponents say the change could allow restaurants to morph into bars. Ramsey said the amendment is intended to make the definition of a standard restaurant in local zoning law consistent with the definition in state law.