In The News › Vote on city’s master plan is delayed for a month

Oct 27, 2009

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

Vote on city’s master plan is delayed for a month

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Bruce Eggler
The Times-Picayune

When members of the New Orleans City Planning Commission decided Tuesday to postpone for a month their scheduled vote on the city’s proposed master plan, they were worried how City Council members might respond.

A few hours later, however, Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson was among a long line of speakers urging the commission to delay a decision.
“There is no hurry,” Clarkson said at the commission’s third public hearing on the plan. “Please take your time. Don’t send it to the City Council until you and all of our people are fully satisfied.”

Any extended delay, however, could mean the council won’t be able to complete action on the plan before Clarkson’s and other current members’ terms expire May 3.

The reasons that Clarkson and other speakers, ranging from former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy to Garden District residents, cited for urging delay varied widely, and in any case they were not the same as the reason the commission decided to defer its vote.

Most speakers’ criticisms centered on the fact the city’s new zoning ordinance is still many months from completion and on the fact the plan’s recently released chapter on citizen participation differs substantially from a plan many residents spent more than a year developing and expected to be adopted.

The commission, which held its final hearing on the draft plan Tuesday, had planned to vote on it Nov. 10. However, it has directed its consultants to make major revisions to the document — primarily its format, not its substance — and chief consultant David Dixon has reported the revisions won’t be complete until Nov. 13.

Saying it can’t vote on an unfinished document, the commission decided to postpone its final decision until Dec. 8. In the meantime, it will hold a special meeting, probably on Nov. 17, to vote on what could be scores of proposed amendments coming out of its three formal public hearings, an earlier open house and written comments it has received.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, which two weeks ago released a highly critical assessment of the master plan, on Tuesday issued a similarly critical analysis of the chapter on citizen participation, which was not released to the public until after the bureau’s earlier report was completed.

The new analysis says the proposed Community Participation Program would be “overly complicated, unnecessary and off-point” and would not fulfill the mandate in a 2008 City Charter amendment that the city must establish “a system for organized and effective neighborhood participation in land-use decisions and other issues that affect quality of life,” including “the opportunity for meaningful neighborhood review of” any “proposed land-use action affecting the neighborhood.”

Instead of meeting that mandate, the BGR said, the system proposed by the consultants “risks diminishing, rather than enhancing, the neighborhood-level participation in planning and land-use decisions.”

By creating a system of district councils composed of representatives of neighborhood associations and many other organizations, the BGR report said, the proposed system “would insert an extra layer of bureaucracy between the neighborhood and the City Planning Commission” and could give “entities unaffected by a land-use proposal a larger voice than that of the affected neighborhood.”

Several speakers at Tuesday’s hearing voiced similar sentiments.

Several other speakers, such as land-use attorney Justin Schmidt, said the commission and the council should not vote on the master plan until the public can see the new zoning ordinance and zoning maps, which will tell exactly how each piece of property will be zoned and how each neighborhood will be affected by all the new documents.

However, the zoning documents cannot be completed until the master plan is in place, since under the charter amendment all zoning laws and decisions must conform to the master plan. Work on the master plan and the new zoning ordinance was supposed to proceed simultaneously, but with the master plan always intended to be completed first.

Under the charter, the City Council will have 90 days to review and vote on the master plan after it gets the final document from the planning commission. If the council wants any changes, no matter how small, the plan must go back to the commission, which then would have 60 days to review the proposed changes before sending the plan back to the council.

The longer the commission delays voting on the plan, therefore, the greater the chance that final adoption by the council could be delayed until after new council members and a new mayor take office in May — at which point all bets would be off, since no one knows what changes the new officials might want.

Oct 27, 2009

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Planning Issues

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