In The News › Master plan idea voted onto ballot

Jul 11, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

Master plan idea voted onto ballot

Master plan idea voted onto ballot
N.O. aims to remove politics from zoning
Friday, July 11, 2008
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

The New Orleans City Council voted 7-0 on Thursday to submit to voters a City Charter amendment that would substantially revamp the way the city handles zoning and land-use regulation.

The amendment, which will be on the Nov. 4 ballot, would mandate the preparation of a 20-year “master plan for the physical development of the city” and require that all zoning maps, land-use decisions, public projects and other government actions conform to the plan.

Proponents said the adoption of a “master plan with the force of law” would do much to eliminate politics from the city’s process for making land-use decisions because the council no longer would be able to amend the zoning law at will.

“I’ve waited almost 40 years to do this,” said council President Jackie Clarkson, author of the proposed amendment. Even before she went into politics, she said, she saw that “venture capital was afraid to come into the city” because investors and developers feared “the game rules would change midway because of political decisions.”

Although the amendment says the master plan could be amended every year, Clarkson said it would be “a plan that no one can change at a whim. How refreshing is that?”

—- Broad support —-

The amendment attracted support from a broad spectrum of neighborhood and business leaders, with endorsements coming from groups as varied as the Preservation Resource Center, Bureau of Governmental Research, Downtown Development District, Vieux Carre Property Owners, Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and Eastern New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission.

William Borah, a lawyer who for many years has pushed the idea of a master plan that could limit the council’s ability to change zoning and land-use regulations to accommodate individual projects, called Thursday’s vote “a momentous change.”

Eastern New Orleans resident Joan Heisser said, “The city’s zoning has needed overhauling for many, many years.”

Some community activists spoke against the proposal, however.

Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights said the amendment provided no role in creating the master plan for New Orleanians still displaced from the city and did not spell out how developers could interact with the City Planning Commission.

Noting that the plan has yet to be written, Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute said it would make more sense to let voters see the completed document and decide whether they like it before asking them to enshrine it in the charter.

BGR President Janet Howard said it was important to pass the amendment first so that people will realize the importance of participating in creating the master plan and not think of it as just the latest in a seemingly endless array of post-Katrina plans. “It will mean something this time,” she said.

—- Neighborhood participation —-

Besides mandating creation of a master plan and giving it the force of law, the charter amendment also would require the city to establish “a system for organized and effective neighborhood participation in land-use decisions and other issues that affect quality of life,” including participation in drafting of the master plan.

Details of how that participation will take place are yet to be determined.

The final version of the amendment drops two important changes envisioned in the version Clarkson introduced last month.

One provision would have eliminated the council as the decision-maker on requests for city conditional-use permits, giving that power to the City Planning Commission instead.

The second would have set up a five-member committee to nominate members of the commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustments. The final version leaves that power with the mayor.

Clarkson said earlier in the week that she decided to leave the power to decide conditional-use requests with the council on the advice of the City Planning Commission. Some planning commissioners took issue with that, saying they had not made such a recommendation, but Clarkson insisted that commission staff members had told her it would be better not to make changes in the conditional-use process at this time.

She said the master plan and the new comprehensive zoning ordinance to be created with it will significantly reform the conditional-use process.

Former state legislator Sherman Copelin, president of the New Orleans East Business Association, told the council he would support the charter amendment only because the provisions reducing the power of the council and the mayor had been removed. “Don’t pass any ordinance that takes away the power of elected officials,” he said.

The final version of the amendment would leave Planning Commission members’ terms at nine years and would keep the Board of Zoning Adjustments at seven members. Clarkson’s original version would have changed both provisions.

The amendment lays out requirements for initial orientation and annual “continuous education” training for members of both bodies in subjects such as land-use law, historic preservation, economic development and ethics.

Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3320.

Jul 11, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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