In The News › Planners request zoning proposals

Jul 11, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

Planners request zoning proposals

Planners request zoning proposals
City hopes to draw top national response
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

Hoping to get the long-stalled effort to rewrite New Orleans’ notoriously dysfunctional zoning ordinance back on track, the City Planning Commission has issued a request for proposals to revise that document, redraft the city’s zoning maps and complete its half-finished master plan.

The request was issued Monday. Responses are due Aug. 9.

The chosen consultants are expected to complete their work in a year.

The planning staff estimates the cost at $2 million, although responding firms will be asked to set their own price. The commission’s 2007 budget includes $300,000 for the task. The City Council will have to appropriate the rest of the needed money if the project is to go forward.

The Planning Commission hopes the request for proposals, or RFP, will attract responses from some of the prominent national planners and architects who were involved with the Unified New Orleans Plan and other post-Katrina planning efforts in the city.

The RFP, which is available at the commission’s Web site, said those responding must agree to use their “best efforts to fully comply” with the city’s disadvantaged business enterprise program.

Zoning law 35 years old

There has long been widespread agreement that the city needs a new comprehensive zoning ordinance — the law that says how land can be used, how big new buildings can be, and what types of residential buildings and commercial activities are allowed where.

A 2003 study by the Bureau of Governmental Research, an independent watchdog group, said the current zoning law, written more than 35 years ago and since amended hundreds of times, is “incoherent, over-amended, outdated and vague,” and that “interpreting (it) is well beyond the reach of the typical developer, not to mention the average citizen.”

However, the last effort to rewrite the law collapsed in 2003 in the face of opposition from some business leaders and the decision by Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration to force out then-Planning Director Collette Creppell.

Any new law must win the support of such disparate groups as business leaders, neighborhood organizations, preservationists, developers and elected officials.

Maps to be revised

Besides rewriting the zoning law, the new consultants will also be asked to revise the maps that spell out the zoning classification for every block and lot in the city, and to complete the city’s master plan, a document offering a broad guide to how citizens want the city to develop in the next few decades.

After several years of work, the commission and various consultants had completed eight of the anticipated 13 sections of the master plan by early 2004: an overall “vision statement” and chapters dealing with land use, arts and culture, economic development, historic preservation, tourism management, transportation and “parks, recreation and open space.” Still to be completed are documents on housing, energy, “community facilities and infrastructure,” “critical and sensitive areas and natural hazards” and environmental quality.

The RFP says the new consultants are to produce “a single plan that consolidates all 13 elements . . . into a new document.”

Planning to consult?

The Planning Commission voted in July 2005 to hire Duncan Associates, an Austin, Texas, firm that specializes in writing and revising land-use and development regulations, to lead a team of consultants charged with producing a new zoning ordinance. Duncan was to work with local planners Steve Villavaso and Karen Fernandez and local architect Ray Manning.

Before the contract could be signed, however, Hurricane Katrina hit the city, putting everything on hold. By the time the commission was ready to restart the process, the city attorney’s office recommended that it issue a new RFP, Planning Director Yolanda Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she expects Duncan may be among those responding to the new RFP.

The 2005 RFP drew only two responses, from the Duncan team and from a local group including planner Joy Robinson; architects Allen Eskew, Gerry Billes and Tracy Lea; and lawyer David Gelfand.

Conflicting goals

Former Planning Director Kristina Ford began trying to revise the old zoning law more than a decade ago. With the backing of then-Mayor Marc Morial and working primarily with Dallas consultant Terry Morgan, she unveiled a draft of a new law in March 2001, saying she hoped it would be adopted in a few months.

Ford said the document was designed to promote two sometimes-conflicting goals: protecting neighborhoods from unwanted change while encouraging economic development. It proposed tools she said would enhance preservation by discouraging demolition, encouraging reuse of old structures and disallowing waivers of certain standards.

It also proposed three new zoning categories for older neighborhoods where residential and commercial uses are mingled.

By 2002, after months of heated controversy and countless public hearings, it appeared a consensus had developed in City Hall that the new law should be adopted. Nagin announced his support in October 2002, and some council members joined him.

But some business leaders began expressing reservations about provisions of the new law, such as height limits on buildings in parts of the Central Business District. Meanwhile, several neighborhood groups were worried that the law did not provide enough protection against unwanted commercial intrusions into residential districts.

With neither business nor neighborhood groups strongly behind the proposal, the Planning Commission’s efforts to push it to a council vote went nowhere.

Eventually, Nagin adopted the position that some neighborhood groups had long espoused: that action on a new zoning ordinance should be postponed until after all elements of the master plan were approved.

The new RFP appears to call for producing the master plan, the zoning law and new zoning maps simultaneously.

. . . . . . .

To read the request for proposals, go to the city’s Web site, www.cityofno.com. Click on the Planning Commission’s listing under “Departments & Agencies,” then on the link for the RFP.

Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3320.

Jul 11, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

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