In The News › Former mayor throws support behind master plan bill

Jun 9, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

Former mayor throws support behind master plan bill

By Deon Roberts Online Editor

NEW ORLEANS — Former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy says New Orleans voters should have the final say on a master plan that will dictate the city’s future development.

Three bills are under consideration in the Legislature that would allow voters to have the final say once the City Planning Commission and City Council approve a master plan.

Barthelemy, who works for the development firm HRI Properties, paid for public notices to run in the Times-Picayune before the legislative session began.

According to a notarized document from The Times-Picayune, HRI Properties paid for the ads that ran March 26 and 27.

But Barthelemy and HRI insist that the ads were paid for by Barthelemy, not the company.

HRI has nothing to do with that,” said Barthelemy, who added that his employment with HRI must be why the company was listed as the advertiser in the Times Picayune document.

Barthelemy, HRI’s vice president of civic affairs, said he paid approximately $30 for the ad, which reads: “Public notice is hereby given that there may be introduced at the session of the Legislature to be convened on April 27, 2009, a bill relative to Orleans Parish; to require voter approval of any master plan which has the force of law; to require voter approval prior to the implementation of any provisions of the master plan; to provide a definition of ‘master plan’; and to provide for related matters.”

Senate Bill 75, by state Sen. Ed Murray D-New Orleans, would put the final master plan before voters. It has gained Senate approval and is scheduled for House committee consideration Wednesday. Two similar House bills are still in at the committee level.

Barthelemy said he supports Murray’s bill.

“I think the people should have a right to vote on the master plan,” Barthelemy said. “The master plan hasn’t been completed yet, so they couldn’t have voted for the master plan.”

Murray said he is pushing for a public vote on the master plan out of concern that some ideas being considered, such as removing the Pontchartrain Expressway and replacing it with housing, will reduce access to downtown and create traffic problems in neighborhoods.

HRI chief executive Pres Kabacoff said the company has not taken a position on the master plan, but he personally disagrees with Barthelemy about the need to bring the master plan before voters.

Kabacoff said he is not opposed to a master plan for New Orleans.

“A master plan is very important to the health and direction of our city, if it’s a good one,” Kabacoff said.

He said he has voiced concerns about the master planning process to David Dixon, a planner with Boston-based Goody Clancy, which is helping prepare the city’s master plan.

Kabacoff said his concern is that the master plan would be so inflexible that it would require developers to sue the city in order to move a project forward. “… And the developer gives up because it doesn’t want to get in litigation,” Kabacoff said. “No master plan could ever contemplate a major project. There will always need to be some sort of change. … I think it needs flexibility.”

Kabacoff said Dixon assured him that the plan would be flexible and “to actually recognize that we need growth in the city of New Orleans.”

Dixon said the master plan will take politics out of the process of approving projects. The City Council has the final say on most development matters but does not have a planning document on which to base their decisions, Dixon said, which results in spot decisions on zoning, codes and other development matters.

“It will not only make it easier for developers to develop but it will improve the quality of what they develop,” Dixon said.

But Barthelemy, who was opposed to November’s charter amendment, said he worries about taking power away from the City Council and giving it to the City Planning Commission.

“There are many people who disagree with this whole approach,” he said.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit policy analysis group, says Murray’s bill conflicts with New Orleans’ home rule charter, which gives the city authority to make its own laws. In November, New Orleans voters approved an amendment to the charter to give the master plan the force of law once the plan is adopted.

If the Legislature approves Murray’s bill, BGR maintains it will “open the door to a flood of referenda on decisions now made via representative government.”

Meg Lousteau, executive director of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, said her organization is opposed to Murray’s bill.

“Citizens have already voted on this,” she said. “It would set New Orleans back.”•

Jun 9, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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