Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese denied a request Thursday for a temporary injunction that would have barred the city from implementing a provision in the new comprehensive zoning ordinance that will allow buildings up to 80 feet tall in Marigny and other riverfront neighborhoods.
Reese said he was troubled by the freedom the law gives developers to move forward with projects without significant input from nearby residents but that his discomfort could not legally override the decision made by the New Orleans City Council in May to adopt the measure.
The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association filed a suit against the city, the council and the City Planning Commission. The lawsuit said the provision, known as the Riverfront Overlay District, would cause “severe changes” to the Marigny neighborhood. It asked that the provision be declared null and void because it did not go through a hearing process before the Planning Commission.
The creation of an “overlay district” along the riverfront was one of the most contentious features of the new CZO, which went into effect this month.
It allows structures in the district to qualify for a 25-foot “height bonus” — bringing the maximum height to 80 feet — if the building’s design incorporates desirable elements such as open space, public plazas and open-air cafes with visual access to the river, or if the developer agrees to pay at least half the cost — not less than $250,000 — of a new bridge over the floodwall, a railroad crossing or another capital improvement that “significantly increases” public access to the riverfront.
Marigny residents had voiced such strong opposition to their inclusion in the proposed district that the Planning Commission carved the neighborhood out of the overlay district in the commission’s final draft of the CZO. But an amendment, proposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and approved 7-0 by the council, added the neighborhood back in.
As approved by the council, the overlay district includes the Marigny, Bywater, Holy Cross and Algiers Point neighborhoods.
Residents including FMIA President Lisa Suarez told Reese that the amendment should have gone to the Planning Commission for a recommendation and public comment before being folded into the zoning document, which had been in preparation for several years. They said they did not have proper time to review and comment on the amendment.
The amendment was posted to the City Council’s website in March as part of a much broader amendment that included changes to a wide variety of sections in the CZO. Many residents didn’t realize that the amendment called for putting Marigny back into the overlay district until the day the City Council adopted the CZO.
“It was kind of confusing,” FMIA member Ray Kern said of that day’s meeting. “I’m not sure the City Council knew what they were voting on.”
However, City Planning Commission Director Robert Rivers said council members can submit amendments to an ordinance at any point during their consideration of it.
Reese said he was troubled by some aspects of the overlay district provision, particularly that a developer would not be required to meet with neighbors before building an 80-foot building.
“I think it denigrates our entire system of government when we don’t allow the citizenry to have comment,” Reese said.
But he said his feeling alone was not enough to reverse the council’s decision.
“As much as I don’t like it, I cannot supplant my judgment on theirs,” Reese said.