Palmer and Williams at economic justice rally

District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer announces support for a "ban the box" ordinance to a crowd outside City Hall alongside Council President Jason Williams, right, on Sept. 12.

Tall new buildings on the Marigny and Bywater riverfront would be required to include affordable housing units under a plan advanced by the New Orleans City Council on Thursday, reversing a controversial move made by the previous council.

The latest twist in a four-year debate over what is known as the riverfront overlay zoning district was counted as a victory by affordable housing proponents and some neighborhood groups.

Those groups had decried the previous council’s decision to buck city planners who had said six-story buildings should be allowed along the riverfront only if they included units for low-income residents.

The about-face came at the behest of Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who last year replaced Nadine Ramsey as the representative for Marigny, Bywater and some other east bank neighborhoods as well as Algiers.

Ramsey had argued that the riverfront shouldn't be singled out for affordable housing requirements until a citywide policy was in place, but Palmer said Thursday that it was important to advance “one of many efforts to enhance the affordable housing requirements in New Orleans.”

“This adds back in exactly what the City Planning Commission recommended, which is exactly what the neighbors would like as well,” Palmer said. 

New Orleans greenlights taller developments on riverfront, nixes incentives for affordable housing

The council voted 6-0, with Councilman Jason Williams absent, to direct the commission to review amendments to the zoning ordinance that would require developments along the riverfront in Marigny and Bywater to include at least 10 percent affordable housing units in order to qualify for additional density and height limits, up to a maximum of six stories or 75 feet.

The affordable units would be reserved for households with incomes equal to or below 80 percent of the area median income; at least half must contain two or more bedrooms. 

The rule would affect properties between the Mississippi River and Chartres or Decatur streets. Developments closest to the street would still be more limited in height.

Williams and Jared Brossett, who voted in favor of the new plan on Thursday, both had approved the previous proposal almost exactly a year ago without the affordable housing requirements. The full council normally goes along with district representatives on issues affecting a single district. 

Allowing riverfront projects to rise 20 feet to 25 feet higher than would otherwise be permitted, in return for certain actions by developers, has long been discussed as a way to take advantage of what is seen as particularly desirable and valuable property in the neighborhoods downriver from the French Quarter.

Those looser height limits were initially approved in 2015, though a lawsuit by the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association forced the city to go back through the approval process before they could be put in place.

Plan for taller buildings on Marigny, Bywater riverfront heading back to City Council

That second process yielded a plan that would allow six-story buildings only if they set aside 10 percent of their units for lower-income residents and abided by rules aimed at resolving neighborhood concerns.

That proposal seemed headed toward passage last year until a last-minute change stripped out the affordable housing requirement.

That amounted to a “clear giveaway to developers,” said Maxwell Ciardullo with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

Palmer’s proposal calls for reinstating that rule. No projects have yet been approved under the previous council’s regulations.

The final document could end up including other restrictions or higher affordable housing requirements, Palmer said.


Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​