In The News › Urban planner knocks proposed master plan

Oct 14, 2009

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

Urban planner knocks proposed master plan

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
By Rebecca Mowbray and Bruce Eggler, Staff writers
The Times-Picayune

A nationally known urban planner hired by the Bureau of Governmental Research panned New Orleans’ proposed master plan Tuesday, saying the latest draft would be the longest master plan in America yet would fail to provide basic guidance on land-use issues.

Later in the day, a surprisingly small crowd of residents and one City Council member offered their own thoughts on the document at a City Hall hearing, focusing both on specific neighborhood issues and on broad evaluations that said it offers either too little or too much emphasis on preservation, and is either too accommodating or too hostile to new multifamily housing.

Paul Sedway, who has served as a board member of the American Planning Association and a vice president of the American Institute of Planners, urged local officials to delay passage of the plan, saying it needs additional work and editing to make it useful.

“Our conclusion is that this plan is not yet fully adequate,” Sedway told a packed ballroom at a BGR-sponsored breakfast at the Chateau Bourbon Hotel. “I think it would be a big mistake to adopt the plan before you” when, “with very little extra work, you could have a top-flight master plan.”

Despite a 50-year-old mandate in the City Charter, New Orleans has had no master plan to guide decisions about development and land use. After Hurricane Katrina, the city allocated $2 million of recovery money toward developing such a plan and hired a well-known Boston planning firm, Goody Clancy, to create it.

Once adopted, the plan will have the force of law, meaning that all zoning and land-use laws and decisions must conform to it.

Public hearings on Goody Clancy’s final draft started Tuesday evening.

—- Vote scheduled Nov. 10 —-

The City Planning Commission had been hoping to vote on the plan at its Nov. 10 meeting and send it to the City Council, which then would have 90 days to act on it. However, some commissioners Tuesday agreed with Sedway that the document still needs work, and they said they may not be ready to vote on it Nov. 10.

The BGR, which commissioned Sedway’s work, called Monday for postponing the public hearings until the plan’s chapters on citizen participation and implementation are completed. Despite objections from some members that the latest drafts of those two chapters still need more work, the commission voted Tuesday to post them on the project’s Web site, www.nolamasterplan.org

Sedway said the plan is too broad in scope, meandering through everything from universal health care to police Web sites to plastic-bag policy, yet fails to address the basic aims of the City Charter’s mandate. He said the key land-use section, which should be the foundation for any plan, isn’t found until the end of the document, and the lack of an index, master map, numbered sections and cross-referencing would make it hard for officials to reference it when making decisions.

“The current draft is flooded with other variables, which I consider extraneous. What is missing in the land-use component is the policies that the city will use on a day-to-day basis,” Sedway said. “It’s tough to plow through it.”

—- N.O. starting far behind —-

David Dixon, principal for planning and urban design at Goody Clancy and chief author of the plan, said his team of consultants would take Sedway’s critique to heart. But he defended his plan, saying it’s so expansive because New Orleans has never done the sort of planning work that other cities have and therefore there is no foundation to build upon.

“This will be the longest master plan in the country because the last 20 years of work aren’t there,” Dixon said of the several-hundred-page document.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson, the author of the charter amendment that gave the plan the force of law, said she agreed with the BGR’s suggestion to delay action on the plan, saying there’s still time to get it done right before a new mayor and council members take office in May.

The problem, she said, is that the project turned out to be bigger than anyone imagined and the planners went to such great lengths to get public input that the city’s $2 million has all been spent. But Clarkson said she stands behind the plan and will try to find the extra money needed to work on it further and make it a more useful tool.

“Is it perfect? No. Is it the best thing the city will ever have? Yes,” Clarkson said. “Taking all that into consideration, we have been very pleased.”

But Steven Bingler, a New Orleans architect and planner who played a leading role in drafting the post-Katrina Unified New Orleans Plan, said Sedway’s argument of sticking to the basics and Dixon’s expansive vision reflect different schools of thought in the planning world.

In contrast to the thousands of New Orleanians who participated in district and citywide meetings to help create the plan, fewer than 100 turned out for Tuesday night’s public hearing, and fewer than 20 of them spoke.

—- Missing recommendations —-

Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, the only council member who last year opposed the charter amendment giving the then-unwritten plan the force of law, complained that many of the suggestions made by residents of her district at earlier sessions had yet to be incorporated into the document. Dixon promised they will be added within two weeks.

Jack Davis, president of Smart Growth for Louisiana, said the plan contains “a lot of warm and agreeable thoughts” and “understands New Orleans pretty well,” but is “vast and vague,” sometimes ambiguous and even self-contradictory.

He said the document needs “some tough, focused editing,” such as further emphasizing the economic value of preservation and defining better which buildings and institutions should be preserved and which ones can be changed.

—- Too many ‘myths’ —-

The next speaker, Anthony Favre, took an opposite approach in his all-out assault on the plan, which he called a “living will” for a “dead city.” He said it focuses far too much on goals such as preservation, livability and developing a “cultural economy” at the expense of promoting real economic development and assisting businesses.

He said the document is “shot through with the myths of the preservationist community” and displays contempt for business and commercial property.

Most other speakers focused on narrower issues, such as what the plan says about the possibility of more multifamily housing in eastern New Orleans, the future of Carver Senior High School and how much land along Chef Menteur Highway in far eastern New Orleans can be developed.

Some criticized the plan’s failure to express a clear opinion on whether Charity Hospital should be redeveloped or a new state teaching hospital should be built in Mid-City.
The City Planning Commission will hold another public hearing Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the City Council chamber at City Hall.

Oct 14, 2009

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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