New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry was rebuffed last week in her attempt to create an interim zoning district along Maple Street to prohibit the sale of alcohol and live entertainment at restaurants where those are not already allowed by a conditional-use permit.
Although a majority of the five council members present voted in favor of her proposal, two members were absent and Guidry did not have the four votes she needed.
The result was a rare defeat for a district member on an issue purely in her district. Her loss, however, may be only temporary.
The council voted 3-2 in favor of the Maple Area Use Restriction Interim Zoning District. Jason Williams and James Gray voted against the measure, while Nadine Ramsey and Jared Brossett were absent.
Guidry said her measure was intended as a stopgap way to prevent new restaurants from opening and automatically receiving the right to sell alcohol and have live entertainment until the City Council can consider a separate plan to create an overlay district on Maple Street.
That district would run from Cherokee Street to South Carrollton Avenue and would make alcohol sales and live entertainment conditional uses in standard restaurants.
The city’s longtime zoning law made sale of alcohol a conditional use — one requiring specific approval by the council — at most standard restaurants citywide and prohibited live entertainment at such establishments. However, the recently adopted new comprehensive zoning ordinance allows both of those activities by right.
Guidry said that before the new CZO was passed, she had grown concerned about the impact such a change would have on the neighborhood surrounding Maple Street. She said she was inundated with complaints from residents about a “Mardi Gras, French Quarter atmosphere” in the area when she took office in 2010.
“Frankly, I believe my thinking was that it took so much to clean up Maple Street from the way it was when I got into office that people would be pleased to continue to have the protection afforded by a conditional use,” Guidry said.
She tried to add an amendment to the new zoning ordinance putting an overlay district on the street. But Maple Street business owners opposed the change on the day of the council’s vote on the CZO, and the amendment was sent to the City Planning Commission for consideration instead. The commission’s staff has recommended denial of the overlay district. The commission will consider it Tuesday. The City Council has the final say. It is expected to consider the overlay district at a meeting in August.
The new CZO, however, will go into effect before the council meets again. The interim zoning district she proposed would have maintained the status quo until the council can consider the overlay district, Guidry said.
Guidry’s proposals for an interim zoning district and ultimately an overlay district have drawn a mixed reception in the Maple Street area. The Maple Street Merchants Association opposes the restrictions. Maple Area Residents Inc., an organization of homeowners, is in favor of them, though several residents said they disagree with the organization’s position.
Alexander Sakla, who lives on nearby Hampson Street, said the proposals would serve “no other purpose than to extinguish the Maple area businesses through attrition.”
Businesses on Maple Street would be at risk of falling behind their counterparts in the commercial sections of Oak and Freret streets if the restrictions go into place, Sakla said.
“Under the current, overly burdensome conditional-use process, it is clear that no businesses are going to want to invest heavily in our neighborhood on the hope and dream that they can overcome the conditional-use process,” Sakla said. “We deserve equal treatment with the other (neighborhoods) adjacent to us.”
Other residents, however, welcomed the proposed restrictions as a way of protecting them from the noise and trash they said accompanies establishments serving alcohol.
Keith Hardie, president of Maple Area Residents Inc., said the existing businesses on the street are doing just fine but need to be governed by sensible regulations that keep them from getting out of line.
Although Williams said he was generally in favor of the idea of the interim zoning district and inclined to vote in favor of the overlay district, he voted against the measure because he said he didn’t believe Guidry had given proper notice to constituents that the matter would be before the council on Thursday.
Gray said he voted against the interim zoning district because he believed the status quo should be maintained until the CZO goes into effect on Aug. 12.
Update: An earlier version of this story said the City Planning Commission recommended denial of the Maple Street overlay district. The commission’s staff has recommended denial. The commission will consider the matter Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.