The New Orleans City Council expects to vote on a proposed new comprehensive zoning ordinance, likely with several revisions, by Nov. 21 and possibly well before, council President Stacy Head said Tuesday as the body held its first hearing on the long-awaited revision of the city’s zoning law.
Individual council members will meet with various groups and residents of their districts to discuss the new CZO before the vote. As of Tuesday, only Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell had set a date, Oct. 13, for a district meeting on the document.
The next time the matter will be discussed by the council as a whole is when it comes up for a vote. The date of that vote hasn’t been scheduled, but the council has to act on it by Nov. 21 and will likely vote on it before then so that it doesn’t interfere with hearings on the city’s 2015 budget. Budget hearings begin Oct. 27.
Tuesday’s meeting brought up many of the same concerns that arose as the document made its way through a total of 20 planning district meetings in 2011 and 2013 and three City Planning Commission hearings this year.
The new CZO is intended to give legal force to the guidelines and principles set forth in the city’s master plan for long-term development. It governs development on all private property in New Orleans and includes lists of permitted land uses for each zoning classification, as well as height limits, building sizes, setback requirements, urban design standards, operational rules and other regulations.
The proposed creation of a “riverfront overlay district,” with waivers on some height limits and guidance on how riverfront development should happen; the designation of places in the French Quarter and other neighborhoods where live music will be permitted and prohibited; and reduced parking requirements for developments in the Central Business District remain points of controversy.
There also are neighborhood- and industry-specific issues, such as a reduction in setback requirements for artist communities in Esplanade Ridge and the proposed definition of beer breweries, which brewers say will confine their operations to industrial areas and hinder their growth.
The proposed law would replace a zoning code that is more than four decades old and has been amended hundreds of times. The current law was called “incoherent, over-amended, outdated and vague” in a 2003 study by the Bureau of Governmental Research. “Interpreting the zoning ordinance is well beyond the reach of the typical developer, not to mention the average citizen,” the report said.
BGR is not satisfied with the proposal now under consideration, however. Peter Reichard, the nonprofit group’s director of research, told the council that the new CZO fails to bring “clarity and predictability” to the land-use decision-making process and leaves it open to the whims of lawmakers.
Reichard took particular issue with a portion of the proposed law that would allow exemptions to rules set forth in the CZO for “planned developments” that include “enhanced amenities,” including open space and bike-sharing facilities in their plans.
“(It) would give public officials far too much discretion and open the door to a ‘Let’s make a deal’ approach to decision-making,” Reichard said. “And New Orleans has opened that door before. It too often leads to tainted processes and bad decisions for the urban fabric.”
The council members and planning staff did not directly address any of the concerns expressed Tuesday.
Before the public comment period, Planning Commission Executive Director Robert Rivers called the proposed CZO a “living document” that is almost certain to be amended almost as soon as it is adopted.