In The News › Dock Board’s vote draws fire

Mar 2, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Dock Board’s vote draws fire

Dock Board’s vote draws fire
No notice given on riverfront plan
Thursday, March 02, 2006
By Jaquetta White
Business writer

The heads of several neighborhood groups are calling for the Port of New Orleans’ Dock Board to vote again on a resolution it adopted last week that encourages riverfront development.

Nathan Chapman, president of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates Inc., said the Dock Board, by not including the resolution on its agenda for last week’s meeting, prevented him and other interested parties from giving public comment at the meeting. In its monthly board meeting, the port’s governing board voted to allow port President and Chief Executive Gary LaGrange to enter into an agreement with the city that could serve as the catalyst for development along the river.

The resolution was not listed on the agenda posted days before the meeting or the one made available just before the meeting.

Chapman as well as representatives from the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association and the French Quarter Citizens group are weighing legal options that could pressure a new vote.

“I think they should give real public notice and revote even if the outcome is the same,” Chapman said. “The process is important.”

Port spokesman Chris Bonura said the last-minute addition wasn’t intended to exclude public participation.

“The committee met the day before and they decided to put it on the agenda,” Bonura said. “It was one of those things that happened at the last minute.” Under Louisiana law a public body can add items to a meeting agenda without notice as long as two-thirds of the members are present and agree.

But Janet Howard, president and CEO of the nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research, said the port’s actions run counter to the intent of the open meetings law.

“It’s unfortunate the port would take up a matter that has been the subject of intense public interest without notifying the public,” Howard said. “In the absence of an emergency, taking up a significant item that’s not listed on the agenda defeats the purpose of the open meetings law.”

The agreement, which was approved at the Dock Board’s regular monthly meeting, still has to be adopted by the New Orleans Building Corp. and the City Council. It lays the framework for development along the river by dictating which areas can and cannot be redeveloped for nonmaritime purposes. The port and city have said the agreement will spur development along some of the unused and underused parts of the riverfront.

Chris Costello, president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, said his group is not opposed to riverfront development but does have concerns and would have appreciated the opportunity to voice them on record.

“Nobody is against development on the riverfront,” Costello said. “People are against bad development on the riverfront.”

For instance, Costello questions a provision in the agreement that encourages the city to enter into good-faith negotiations with a company the port has approved to build an amphitheater on the riverfront.

“These are all great ideas,” Costello said, “but is it possible to put a 3,000-person amphitheater on the riverfront without disturbing the neighborhoods?”

Parking also is a major concern, as is the possibility that high-rises could be built on the land, Costello said.

“The riverfront and waterfront should be given to the city,” Costello said. “Putting up high-rises goes to people that don’t live in the city. It steals from the city.”

However, Pat Gallwey, executive assistant at the port, said those concerns are unfounded because the port and several other groups, including neighborhood associations, have worked for at least the past two years to develop ideas for development.

“The issue has been discussed in the public domain for several years,” Gallwey said. “So we didn’t have any intention of keeping them out of the process.”

Gallwey said the overwhelming intention of redevelopment is to return the riverfront to the neighborhoods using mostly green space and entertainment venues, not commercial development.

Still, Costello said the port’s decision to put the resolution on the agenda without notice raises a red flag. The rushed resolution makes him wonder how the port might proceed when potentially controversial development projects are up for approval.

“It makes it so that we can’t trust them,” he said. “This is a somewhat small issue. But what happens with big issues?”

Added Meg Lousteau, principal of Pontalba Properties: “It’s a mockery of public participation. The new New Orleans is not supposed to be that way. It just sends a terrible message.”

Gallwey said such wary views are unwarranted.

The agreement itself, known as a cooperative endeavor agreement, merely spells out the relationship between the port and city in eliminating what had been a multistep process for riverfront redevelopment, Gallwey said.

Traditionally, riverfront development has been handled in a piecemeal fashion, with projects such as the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Woldenberg Park requiring separate agreements with the port and the city.

The agreement does nothing to usurp the role of the Planning Commission or the City Council.

“If there is any commercial development, it must go through the normal review process,” Gallwey said. “It still has to abide by all the rules that the city has established for building buildings. This agreement doesn’t change any of that.”

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Jaquetta White can be reached at jwhite@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3494.

Mar 2, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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