After four years in the making, the replacement for the 40-year-old rules that guide land use in New Orleans has moved to the final stage of approval: the City Council.
The council has begun accepting written comments on the proposed new comprehensive zoning ordinance, or CZO, and it will hold a special hearing on the matter Sept. 30.
The council will not vote on the ordinance at that meeting, however. It isn’t expected to vote on it until sometime next month, following additional public hearings. A date for that vote has not been set. The final draft proposed by the City Planning Commission will appear on the council’s Oct. 2 agenda but will be deferred.
“It is important to the council that the public be well informed of this final opportunity to engage in the CZO adoption process,” council President Stacy Head said in a written statement. “Council members are committed to transparency and strong community participation, and these commitments, along with other best practices, will continue through the final decision.”
The CZO is intended to give legal force to the guidelines and principles set forth in the city’s master plan for long-term development, which the council approved in 2010.
The ordinance 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 and setback requirements, urban design standards, operational rules and other regulations.
The current law governing zoning dates from the early 1970s and has been amended hundreds of times. It was called “incoherent, over-amended, outdated and vague” in a 2003 study by the Bureau of Governmental Research.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.
Designed to provide clearer rules using both text and graphics, the new CZO has been crafted over four years through a lengthy process that has drawn more than 1,000 comments and required three public drafts.
The latest version was recommended for approval by the City Planning Commission last week and was sent to the council for consideration. The recommendation will be formally received at the council’s meeting this week, but members will take no action on it then.
The council has not said how many hearings it will hold to discuss the ordinance, but it did say it is prepared to revise the schedule of hearings on the 2015 budget to allow for as much discussion as necessary.
The council’s hearings are almost certain to draw a crowd. The last of three commission hearings on the new law lasted for several hours, most of that time dedicated to public comment. Height limits for riverfront buildings, zoning on university campuses and landscaping requirements for businesses in New Orleans East were among the issues raised by the numerous speakers.
The council can amend the proposed ordinance as it sees fit after weighing the public input.
Provided the council passes the measure sometime next month, the new regulations could be in place by the end of the year.