In The News › Zoning process revamp watered down

Jul 8, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

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

Zoning process revamp watered down

by Bruce Eggler, The Times-Picayune

Monday July 07, 2008, 9:03 PM

When the New Orleans City Council decides Thursday whether to call a fall election on a proposed City Charter amendment revamping the way the city makes land-use decisions, the proposal will be far less sweeping than the version introduced last month by council President Jackie Clarkson.

Clarkson told a meeting of the council’s Governmental Affairs Committee on Monday that, at the City Planning Commission’s urging, she has agreed to remove two key provisions from the amendment, even though they were the two changes she wanted most.

One provision would have eliminated the council as the decision-maker on requests for city conditional-use permits, giving that power to the 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. Under the new draft, that power would remain with the mayor.

The charter amendment would still give the city’s yet-to-be-written master plan the force of law and require that all zoning laws and land-use regulations be consistent with it. It also would require the city to establish “a system for organized and effective neighborhood participation” in land-use decisions, including preparing and amending the master plan.

The council is expected to vote Thursday to put the revised amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

William Borah, a lawyer who for years has called for revising city procedures for land-use decisions, said he and others involved in the effort agreed to support removing the provisions on conditional-use requests and selection of commission members.

Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, said that even though the measure no longer would accomplish some key changes her organization wants, it still would bring about important reforms.

Borah said the current practice of allowing the council to decide all important land-use issues and amend the zoning law at will is “dysfunctional.” With a more “predictable and transparent” system based on a master plan that everyone must follow, he said, more businesses will want to invest in New Orleans.

Clarkson agreed with Borah and said she has heard no objections to her proposal from developers.

Bob Brown, managing director of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, said members of his organization want city decisions to be “clear, predictable, reliable, fair and expeditious.”

The proposal to let the Planning Commission rule on applications for conditional uses, activities allowed only with special permits to which the city can attach conditions, was designed to take politics out of the process.

Under the current system, which gives the council final say after the commission makes recommendations, people seeking such permits must “kiss the ring” of council members, Clarkson said.

But Borah said backers of the amendment decided the best place to deal with the issue will be in the master plan and new zoning ordinance that Goody Clancy, a Boston planning and architectural firm, has been hired to create for the city by mid-2009.

Councilman Arnie Fielkow said he hated to see the change dropped because dealing with such requests takes up too much of the council’s time. Howard said that even if the new zoning law reduces the number of activities classified as conditional uses, the council still will have to rule on them unless the charter is changed.

Borah said the idea of creating a committee to nominate Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustments members was dropped because the procedure would have created conflicts of interest.

The proposed committee would have consisted of two professional planners and representatives of “the business community,” a preservation organization and a neighborhood organization, none specified by name. The committee would have submitted three names for each vacancy to the mayor, who would then pick one.

The amendment still would require more training for members of both boards.

Planning Director Yolanda Rodriguez said a proposal to reduce planning commissioners’ terms from nine to five years, with a maximum of two terms, has also been dropped.

The Governmental Affairs Committee voted 3-0 to endorse the proposed charter amendment, with the changes agreed to by Clarkson.

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

Jul 8, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

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

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