In The News › Master plan critics call for clarity in standards

Oct 26, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

Master plan critics call for clarity in standards

Authors say New Orleans’ lack of planning precedents makes crafting rules tough

Monday, October 26, 2009
By Ben Myers
New Orleans CityBusiness

A philosophical clash over the city’s master plan is surfacing among authors of the plan’s current draft and those who helped craft the 2008 city charter amendment that gives the plan legal force.

Draft plan authors say it needs to establish civic infrastructure and a broad vision to carry out future policies, but critics say it needs to be confined to land use and immediately offer clear policy directives.

The plan’s legal power magnifies the conflict. Housing policy, for example, is an area where the draft “cedes the planning to a new group or another plan,” according to a critical report by the Bureau of Governmental Research, which drafted an early version of the charter amendment.

The draft calls for city representatives, real estate agents, economists and housing advocates, among others, to convene a working group that would create policy. But BGR President Janet Howard said such “punting” of policy formation “seems to contradict the clear language of the charter.”

“You can’t just put out something loosey goosey when you are dealing with that kind of mandate,” Howard said.

And Paul Sedway, a planning consultant BGR hired to critique the plan, told a public audience Oct. 13 that the draft is “essentially abdicating your responsibility to others.”

“I’m not even sure that’s legal,” Sedway added. “But we’ll soon find out.”

But it would be inappropriate to create a housing policy through the master plan because “there is nothing to build on,” said David Dixon, who oversaw the draft for Goody Clancy, a Boston planning firm the City Planning Commission contracted to devise the plan.

“In other cities, there are very clearly established agencies,” Dixon said, in areas such as transportation, economic development and environmental protection. “Much of what the master plan (in other cities) is doing is refining the policies of what these agencies have in place.”

In Dixon’s view, a formal “New Orleans Housing Working Group,” with political appointees, should assume the legal mandate to devise policy. A one-sided plan written solely by Goody Clancy would lack political capital, Dixon said.

“We need to have fingerprints all over this,” Dixon said.

An informal housing working group did advise the firm, Dixon said, but “they disagreed with each other strongly.” He said the recommendation of a more formal group would amount to a policy directive.
“It’s nice for people to talk to us, but there was no necessity,” Dixon said. “You need to charge them in a much more official way.”

William Borah, an attorney and vocal advocate of the charter amendment, said it’s “tough stuff” to create binding policy in a city that has no history of comprehensive, citywide planning.

“Planning here has always been an afterthought,” Borah said. “Historically, we say New Orleans has planning by surprise.”

Planning has been shaped by developers “kissing the ring,” Borah said, or getting their projects approved by forming personal relationships with City Council members — to the exclusion of outside investors.

That’s why, in the view of Borah and others, the plan needs blunt force.

“If you don’t develop a system of predictability and transparency, you will not get serious economic development,” he said.

Plus, the draft is too long and fluffy, Borah said, echoing Sedway and other critics who feel the wealth of facts, figures and background information clutter the narrative.

“It goes into needless depth with regard to such matters as plastic bags, police Web sites, universal health care,” Sedway said at the BGR presentation.

Borah said the draft needs to more closely resemble a legal document and shed anything unrelated to “physical development.”

“If you can’t do it, don’t put it in the plan,” Borah said. “You’ve got to be very sharp, you have to draft it in such a way that it gives directions.”

Dixon, who conceded the draft could use tightening, said Goody Clancy is working on making the plan more usable. Those efforts include creating a user’s guide that separates goals, policies and actions, and a map that “visually summarizes” proposals.

But Dixon considers supplemental research part of his mission. For one thing, he said, it provides transparency. For another, “it doesn’t exist anywhere else in New Orleans.”

“If you are doing a master plan for Portland, Ore., you could go on the Web and learn anything you wanted to know.”

Steve Villavosa, a New Orleans land-use attorney Goody Clancy subcontracted to work on zoning and citizen participation, said the draft could improve by more clearly distinguishing which sections have legal force.

But it would be a mistake to divorce those sections, such as zoning maps, from the kind of information contained in Goody Clancy’s draft.

And he is unapologetic about its length.

“The zoning ordinance has to look at the history of Carrollton, the fabric of the housing in Carrollton,” Villavosa said. “There is nothing superficial in those 500 pages.”•

Oct 26, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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