In The News › BGR consultant pans master plan draft

Oct 13, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

BGR consultant pans master plan draft

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
By Ben Myers, Staff Writer
New Orleans CityBusiness

The city’s draft master plan is “so deficient that it would be a mistake to adopt it.”

That’s according to Paul Sedway, a planning consultant hired by the Bureau of Governmental Research to critique the plan. Sedway shared his thoughts this morning before a large audience at the Chateau Bourbon Hotel where BGR held a panel discussion on the master plan.

Sedway’s comment referred specifically to the plan’s “usability,” which he said is critical to successful urban planning documents. The draft far exceeds its city charter mandate by focusing on “non-physical” development such as “plastic bags, police Web sites, universal health insurance and the like,” Sedway said.

“I was tempted to find this amusing, but it’s not amusing. These are important matters,” Sedway said, adding that his intent was not to “belittle” the authors’ efforts. “It’s just that the city of New Orleans needs attention to its rebuilding so dramatically that putting these other matters in detracts from (the draft’s) central mission.”

David Dixon, the Goody Clancy principal who was contracted to help lead the master plan drafting process for the city, defended his work. He told Sedway that New Orleans, unlike other cities, has no previous planning policy – a fundamental challenge that “weighed very heavily on us,” Dixon said.

Planning in other cities, he said, is like working on the tip of a foot-tall pyramid, with eight inches of foundation underneath.

“New Orleans is missing the other eight inches of that pyramid,” Dixon said. “I just want everyone here to realize this will be the longest master plan in America, probably, because the last 20 years of work upon which it would normally be based are not there.”

But Sedway responded by questioning what the “other eight inches would contain.” And he had a slew of other criticisms relating to deviance from the 2008 city charter amendment that will make a finalized master plan legally binding.

For example, the charter amendment focuses heavily on land use. As such, Sedway said, the draft’s land use plan should be front center but is currently buried in the 16th chapter.

But, mistake or not, the draft is hurtling toward legal inception. The City Planning Commission, ultimately responsible for submitting a plan to City Council, will hold public hearings tonight and Oct. 27 before voting on the plan Nov. 10.

BGR is calling on the Planning Commission to delay its process, and not specifically because of Sedway’s critique. The Planning Commission has not released the final two chapters of the master plan, which concern implementation and community participation, BGR President and CEO Janet Howard said.

Citizens, she said, should “have a clear document in front of them so they can say ‘You know, this is what planners are proposing. We like that. We don’t like, that.’”

“We are not there,” Howard added.

The draft also leans on “planning by proxy,” where future private entities take over policies contained within the plan, Sedway said.

“You are essentially abdicating your responsibility,” he scolded. “I’m not even sure it’s legal.”

City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson disputed this notion, framing the practice in “grassroots” terms.

“We always in process have historical landmarks organizations, we have zoning groups, we have neighborhood groups,” Clarkson said. “We are only running things through the usual process.”

Clarkson agrees that finalizing the plan before the end of the year is too soon, and said she would prefer to set the deadline for spring, after Mayor Ray Nagin leaves office. She told the audience afterward that she felt “sensitive” about Sedway’s remarks, although she agreed the draft needs more focus.

Still, Clarkson said, “We are very happy with it,” especially considering that New Orleans has never had such a plan.

“Is it perfect? No. Is it the best thing the city will ever have? Yes,” Clarkson said. “And after 300 years, it’s about time.”•

Oct 13, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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