Perhaps the most interesting things to happen at Thursday’s meeting of the New Orleans City Council were what didn’t happen.
Councilwomen Nadine Ramsey and Susan Guidry withdrew and deferred, respectively, proposals that had divided their respective districts.
Ramsey withdrew a proposed amendment to the new comprehensive zoning ordinance that would have rezoned some green space along the Mississippi River in Algiers as “maritime industrial” instead of “neighborhood open space.”
The proposal had drawn stiff opposition from Algiers Point residents who feared that rezoning the batture between Bermuda and Whitney avenues, used by residents for decades for recreation, could allow for tall buildings that would dwarf nearby homes and hurt property values.
The Port of New Orleans had requested the CZO amendment, arguing that the “neighborhood open space” designation was an error. The city’s master plan for development labels the land as maritime industrial.
Ramsey said her amendment was intended to make the CZO consistent with the master plan. But she said she was withdrawing the proposal so the Port of New Orleans, the City Planning Commission and the community can work out ways to restrict the use and height of any future development on the site.
Guidry, meanwhile, deferred a request to amend the new zoning ordinance to create an overlay district along Maple Street to prohibit alcohol sales and live entertainment at restaurants where those are not already allowed by a conditional-use permit.
Guidry has said the overlay is necessary to guard against the loud parties and other unruly behavior that were occurring on Maple Street when she took office in 2010.
Supporters of the overlay district, including the Maple Area Residents Inc. organization, said that without it, some Maple Street restaurants could morph into bars, making the street overly rowdy again. But opponents, led by the Maple Area Business Association, said the measure would undermine the purpose of the CZO by allowing council members to use their own discretion to decide what businesses can open where.
The City Planning Commission had recommended denial of the request.
Guidry did not offer an explanation for her decision to defer the measure.
Separately, another CZO amendment that divided residents and businesses won council approval Thursday despite continued opposition from some residents, mainly in the French Quarter.
That amendment, proposed by Ramsey, changes the definition of a standard restaurant to delete a phrase stipulating that the offering of alcoholic beverages must be “incidental” to the serving of food. A restaurant’s food sales still will have to exceed 50 percent of sales.
Opponents asked that the matter be deferred to allow more time to add safeguards to the amendment prohibiting restaurants from morphing into bars. They said the amendment, as written, severs the mandatory tie between alcohol and food sales at restaurants, opening up the possibility that a restaurant could do a robust lunch business and then shut down food service and operate as a bar at night.
Ramsey said the amendment would make the definition of a standard restaurant in local zoning law consistent with the definition in state law.
The measure was supported by the French Quarter Business Association, French Quarter Business League, Louisiana Restaurant Association and owners of several French Quarter restaurants, including Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s and Acme Oyster House, who said that eliminating the word “incidental” reduces opportunities for confusion and misinterpretation. One example they cited was the potential for denying service to a patron who joins a friend for lunch but wants only a glass of wine.
The amendment passed 4-2, with Stacy Head and Guidry opposed. Jason Williams was absent.
Head said the omission of “incidental” no longer makes it clear that a restaurant’s primary purpose is the sale of prepared food.