In The News › Watchdog group wants zoning law tweak

Oct 14, 2014

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: City Government, Orleans Parish, Planning Issues, Zoning

Watchdog group wants zoning law tweak

By Robin Shannon

CityBusiness

October 14, 2014

A nonpartisan government watchdog group is asking the New Orleans City Council to either substantially revise or remove part of a proposed comprehensive zoning ordinance that would allow rules exceptions to developers of certain projects in exchange for providing benefits to the city.

The Bureau of Governmental Research issued a report Monday criticizing Article 5, a section of the CZO pertaining to “planned development standards.” BGR said in the report that the “broad scope” of Article 5 works against the overall goal of the CZO to provide clarity and predictability to the land use decision-making process. The group has raised concerns about that section of the CZO with each successive draft of the new zoning document.

“Article 5 provides little guidance as to decision making and allows wide-ranging discretion,” the report said. “It creates confusion and potentially opens the way for a return to the let’s-make-a-deal approach that has plagued land use decision making in years past.”

The city has worked nearly four years to revise the CZO to be more in line with the city’s master plan for long-term development. The ordinance looks to establish guiding principles that will define the city planning process as developers, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations bring new proposals up for city review.

The city has held a series of public meetings to give residents and developers a chance to express concerns over the ordinance before the City Council finally weighs in later this month.

According to the text of the CZO, “planned developments are designed to encourage the adaptive reuse of existing structures in a manner that promotes sustainable development and design compatible with the character of the surrounding area and adjoining properties.”

The CZO encourages these developments on larger tracts of land and recommends creative and innovative approaches to the use of land, resulting in more sustainable development and design. The site of development needs to be at least five acres, unless it is in a historic residential district, where planned developments are allowed only for adaptive reuse. Those structures would only require 10,000 square feet of floor area.

Article 5 would allow the City Council to grant zoning rule exceptions to “planned developments” if the developer can demonstrate a “substantial benefit” to the city. Exceptions include those governing use, density, height, area, bulk, yards, parking, loading and signage for “planned developments.”

The article includes a long, wide-ranging list of features such as sustainable design, inclusion of public recreational amenities or outdoor plazas, and public infrastructure improvements that have the potential to demonstrate a substantial benefit.

BGR contends that the list acts as “a guide” and is not an exhaustive list of requirements.

“Additional design characteristics and public benefits and amenities not listed may be considered as part of the approval process,” the report states. “Thus, decision makers could use any project feature they deem to be a public benefit or an amenity in order to justify zoning exceptions. This language leaves too much leeway in decision making.”

According to the CZO, “planned developments” must pass through the city’s Neighborhood Participation Program and would require City Planning Commission approval before moving on to the City Council for final approval via ordinance.

The BGR report recommends that the council eliminate Article 5 because it “puts up for grabs hundreds of pages of zoning rules that have absorbed vast amounts of civic energy and taken years to fashion.”

The report goes on to say that if the council chooses to keep the section, it should be heavily revised to include more specific guidelines for how and when a project can qualify for an exception to the zoning rules.

Oct 14, 2014

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: City Government, Orleans Parish, Planning Issues, Zoning

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