Filed Under:  Local, News

Will zoning change bring an all-night music/bar to your neighborhood?

9th December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

According to Vieux Carre’ neighborhood activist and attorney Stuart Smith, staffers at New Orleans City Hall rushed through a major zoning change in the dead of night which could disrupt neighborhoods across the city—and potentially gut the powers of historic district authorities, like the Vieux Carre’ Commission, to maintain qualify of life standards for residents.

With little fanfare, and with public comment only allowed over the Thanksgiving weekend, the New Orleans City Planning Commission completed work on a new comprehensive zoning ordinance.

As Smith explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “The measure would radically change the quality-of-life across New Orleans for decades to come, and there has been little citywide debate; to the extent that activists have studied it so far, it has been to look at their neighborhood impacts, and not the citywide effect.”

“Some of the more controversial changes would make it much easier for restaurants to sell liquor and, in key areas of the city, offer live music. There has been very little in depth reporting by any of the major news organizations about this deadline, or the major generational changes this proposal will have on how land use is regulated in the city.”

What particularly galled Smith was the timing of the ordinance by the city planning commission.

“Much of their work is perfectly fine in bringing the city’s zoning ordinance up to date, but there are also some major flaws that could have a negative impact on the Crescent City’s quality of life. But the biggest — and most urgent — flaw is the timing of the comment deadline. The days right after Thanksgiving may not be an official state holiday in Louisiana, but it certainly has become an unofficial holiday — for good reasons. Many private offices and places of business are closed, as Americans all across the country relax and often travel great distances to spend time with family and other loved ones. It is one of the last days that people want to think about anything to do with politics or government,” says Smith.

“That’s why I was shocked and disappointed to learn that planning has set the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend to close off public comment on the ordinance, and has rebuffed requests to extend the deadline.”

The timing isn’t the only issue that’s problematic. The so-called Appendix A of the code overhaul makes it dramatically easier for establishment to sell booze and offer live entertainment, the two issues that have been the crux of noise and quality-of-life disagree ments between the city and residents of neighborhoods such as the French Quarter and Marigny who feel they are under siege.”

Smith also believes the zoning changes attempt to subvert state law.

“The ordinance also proposes stripping away some critical powers that were given to the Vieux Carre Commission back in 1951, at the dawn of the historic preservation era, on approving certain changes to the use of architecturally significant structures. This is a very dangerous and in my opinion unconstitutional,” according to Smith

Keith Hardie, a New Orleans attorney and community activist, says, “These changes will have a dramatic effect on neighborhood business districts, all of which can now become more like Frenchman Street. The change in the way restaurants serving alcohol are regulated will remove from the City Planning Commission and City Council their ability to make sure that restaurants are good fits for our older neighborhoods, and the citywide late-night closing hours will encourage more restaurants to operate as bars. This one-size-fits-all approach is inappropriate for a city with diverse neighborhoods.”

Advocates for musicians, such as Jeff Klein disagree, noting, “Live entertainment is virtually the only use that is prohibited anywhere in the city unless specifically allowed. This should be reversed–live entertainment should be allowed unless specifically prohibited.”

Smith replied that he supports live music. It’s just that neighborhoods are different, and the zoning code should reflect this. “It is amazing to me that such a radical change in the zoning laws meant to protect our quality of life is in the works — when there is no quality of life enforcement in the city right now.”

“We would strongly urge that the planning commission extend the public comment period, and allow more debate on these radical changes. At first blush, some of these measures are ill-advised, and New Orleans needs to have a broad, citywide conversation before any action is taken. I urge all stakeholders and neighborhood groups to review this document closely and with their lawyers if possible.”

You can read the entire draft-zoning ordinance here: http://www.nola.gov/city-planning/comprehensive-zoning-ordinance/.

This article originally published in the December 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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