In The News › COMMENTARY: Master plan adds bureaucracy to planning process

Nov 9, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

COMMENTARY: Master plan adds bureaucracy to planning process

Monday, November 9, 2009
By Mark Singletary
New Orleans CityBusiness

I have a dog. He’s a pretty good dog. He’s a good companion; he’s friendly. But he’s a pretty lousy watchdog.

In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that he’d actually help any burglars loot my house if there was a potential head rub and dog biscuit in the deal for him.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, BGR to its friends, is a watchdog, too. Thank goodness they do their job much better than my dog does his. The research organization is usually dead on with its analysis and commentary, and over the years I’ve grown to be a big fan. In the latest report, “Connecting Neighborhoods to City Hall,” BGR seems to get it right again with its analysis and recommendations.

The new report, released last week, is a study on the effectiveness of Chapter 15 of the City Planning Commission’s 2008 master plan that will guide city development as outlined by city charter amendments on land use and city planning.

The 2008 city charter changes require the City Council develop and implement a plan to encourage and facilitate neighborhood participation in land use planning — a noteworthy goal.

Like so many New Orleans plans, the concept is outstanding, but the plan just doesn’t make sense.

According to the BGR report, the mandate for neighborhood involvement in the planning process has three goals:

• Provide for timely notification to a neighborhood of any proposed land use action affecting the neighborhood.
• Provide the opportunity for meaningful neighborhood review of and comment on such proposals.
• Provide the opportunity for meaningful neighborhood participation in the formulation of the master plan or any amendment thereof.

The planning commission recommendation would create 13 planning districts, designate district planners and take away access to the city planning commission from landowners and developers, according to BGR. The recommendation would also create institutional membership on these local planning districts that could dilute local input and insulate property owners from critics and supporters.

The proposed solution simply creates another bureaucracy without achieving the stated goal of the pertinent subsection of the amended city charter.

Let’s take a look at a couple of points:

The proposal that creates 13 local planning districts also creates secondary planning boards that will inhibit, not facilitate local conversation and boots-on-the-ground planning work. By stacking the local boards with institutional members, such as churches and civic clubs, neighborhood development might be unfairly held to district-wide standards that aren’t necessarily compatible with block-by-block usage goals.

The district planning work, as proposed, will be carried out by full-time local planners, assigned to single, or in two cases combined districts, regardless of their workload. As the BGR report points out, a far better plan would have several planners assigned to work on projects that fit workload requirements and expertise.

Having professional level planners employed in case there’s any work to do is something the city just can’t afford.

In short, this plan needs work.

Admitting my bias toward individual property owner rights, there are ways to ensure that city planning happens as it should, for the common good.

Thousands of cities across the country have functional, accessible planning departments. These cities have a way for property owners and developers to outline their land use plans and communicate those plans to interested and contiguous property owners.

In this case, there are ambiguous procedures attached to the planning process that allow for comments and feedback as the review takes place by the city’s professional planning staff.

In a better scenario, property owners and their neighbors should get access to the entire process. Opening up the entire planning process to the light of day ensures that everyone’s rights are preserved.

In short, the BGR report recommends the following steps for revising the planning commission and its relationship with neighborhood development:

• Develop a participation system that connects neighborhoods directly to the City Planning Commission.
• Redraw the planning district boundaries.
• Deploy planning staff in a strategic manner.
• On matters that affect two or more neighborhoods, bring the neighborhoods together.
• Require an official response to neighborhood concerns.
• Either extend the comment period for the draft master plan or remove the community participation program from the draft plan.

This is a potential problem; let’s look an easier solution.

Nov 9, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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