Landmarks Urges Clearer Approach to Zoning Ordinance Review

Louisiana Landmarks Society submitted extensive comments this week to the City Planning Commission calling out problematic features of the proposed Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) and urging planners to respond to citizens’ call for a side-by-side comparison of the existing and proposed CZO. See below for the full text of the letter drafted by Walter Gallas, LLS Executive Director and Sandra Stokes, LLS Advocacy Chair and LLS Board of Trustees Second Vice President.

Robert Rivers, Executive Director

Leslie Alley, Deputy Director

City Planning Commission

City Hall - 7th Floor

1300 Perdido St.

New Orleans, LA 70112

RE: Further Comments on the Proposed Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance

Dear Mr. Rivers and Ms. Alley:

Louisiana Landmarks Society (LLS) is pleased to see the release of the new proposed Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO.)  We understand and appreciate how--consistent with good planning practice--this document flows from the city's Master Plan, which so many citizens worked so hard to develop after Katrina.

Good planning practice also calls for planning professionals to help citizens understand the implications of the new CZO.  And so, what seems to be missing in this rollout is any effort by the City Planning Commission to guide citizens as to what they should be looking for in the way of changes in the proposed CZO that could directly affect their neighborhoods.  As a result of this failure, reviewing the new plan has become a veritable “Where’s Waldo?” as residents search the proposed CZO to uncover additions of permitted uses in a zoning district, modifications of terms, or expansions of definitions.

LLS believes it is incumbent upon the City Planning Commission to present the new CZO so that citizens can get a true picture of exactly what its impact will be on their neighborhoods.  What are the changes?  Will the permitted lot sizes be smaller?  Might taller buildings than ever before be permitted in my neighborhood?  Will there be new permitted uses and will they be more intense?  Will restaurants be allowed to be open later?  Will all restaurants suddenly be able to have live music?  What changes will be allowed in historic districts?

Now is the time to address these and other unknowns, because big problems will unfold in the future if we don't work through all the questions right now.

We again ask the CPC to present a side by side comparison of the current versus proposed plans so that the average citizen can readily understand what the changes mean to their neighborhoods.  We also ask for an extension of the comment period to allow fuller discussion. 

Additionally, as an advocacy organization, LLS offers the following specific comments on several particular issues that have come to our attention. Some are neighborhood-specific, but most have city-wide implications.

  • Louisiana Landmarks Society opposes the change of the land use designation from RM-4 Multiple Family Residential District to EC Educational Campus  - “Institutional” for the properties located at 7300 and 7320 St. Charles Avenue (the Fabacher and Levy mansions). St. Charles Avenue continues to be one of the great streets in America due to its notable architecture and streetscape.  The proposed change in designation provides no guarantee that these architecturally significant buildings will be protected from future plans that could result in their demolition. New Orleans cannot afford the continued loss of buildings that comprise the unique majesty of St. Charles Avenue.   All measures, including zoning, should be in place that ensures the buildings will be preserved and reused.
  • LLS notes that in the proposed CZO, the area near the river in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods is zoned  HM-MU,  "intended to provide a mixed-use environment of light industrial, commercial, and residential uses that would not adversely affect the historic character of the neighborhood."  It is critical that the uses and the scale of any new construction be compatible with the uses and scale of the neighborhood.  We note that the maximum building height in the proposed HM-MU is 50 feet. The adjacent zoning in HMR-3 has a building height maximum of 40 feet. For new construction in HM-MU, the maximum height should be 40 feet. A proposal to increase the  height allowance for a particular project in the area was successfully defeated last year through neighborhood opposition.
  • In the Holy Cross neighborhood, the residents continue to discuss various visions for the redevelopment of the former Holy Cross School site. LLS notes that in the proposed CZO the site is zoned MU-1, Mid-Intensity Mixed-Use. This proposed zoning would allow buildings of 60 feet and no more than five stories for multifamily and non-residential uses. This is incompatible with the vast majority of Holy Cross, whose proposed zoning, HU-RD-2, caps single and two family residential buildings at 35 feet. The maximum height in Holy Cross should be 35 feet. This is an example of how "one-size-fits-all" zoning districts don't work when it comes to historic neighborhoods like Holy Cross.
  • Louisiana Landmarks Society is trying to understand what the proposed CZO  Use Standard for a Restaurant (proposed CZO 20-32) is trying to accomplish and how these standards are going to be enforced. Restaurants are to close by  midnight or 2:00 am depending on the day of the week,  admitting no new customers.  Within two hours they are to close completely  with no staff on the premises.  This standard should not be applied with broad strokes citywide. Each neighborhood and its circumstances need to be looked at individually. If the restaurant serves liquor, when is that to stop? How will this be enforced?
  • Likewise, the Use Standard Live Entertainment-Secondary Use and Live Performance Venue looks problematic (proposed CZO 20-22). May any bar, standard restaurant or indoor amusement facility apply for live entertainment? What would disqualify such an application? How will the noise abatement plan or closed windows and doors policy be enforced?
  • With regard to Article 1.5.G, Previously Granted Conditional Uses and Variances, states…”All conditional uses and variances granted prior to the effective date of this Ordinance or any subsequent amendment to this Ordinance remain in full force and effect, unless a conditional use is allowed as a permitted use as of the effective date of this Ordinance.”  Will this eliminate any and all provisos that are currently in effect for any Conditional Use permits throughout the city if the use is now permitted under the Proposed CZO? The provisos were often the reason the use was even considered to be approvable.
  • Numerous commercial and institutional uses included in various “Permitted and Conditional Uses” tables of the Proposed CZO contain uses without any additional standards.  Many of these can be large and could have impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.  We recommend Use Standards be established for the uses listed below:
  • ·         Animal Hospital
  • ·         Auditorium
  • ·         Broadcast Studio
  • ·         Bus Terminal
  • ·         Convention Center
  • ·         Financial Institution
  • ·         Funeral Home
  • ·         Health Club
  • ·         Heavy Sales, Rental & Service
  • ·         Hostel
  • ·         Hotel/Motel
  • ·         Maritime Use
  • ·         Medical/Dental Clinic
  • ·         Micro-Brewery
  • ·         Micro- Distillery
  • ·         Motor Vehicle Operations Facility
  • ·         Movie Studio
  • ·         Office
  • ·         Off-Track Betting Facility
  • ·         Office
  • ·         Personal Service Establishment
  • ·         Retail Goods Establishment
  • ·         Retail Sales of Alcoholic Beverages
  • ·         Stadium
  • ·         Supper Club
  • ·         Winery
  • ·         Food Processing
  • ·         Manufacturing, Artisan
  • ·         Manufacturing, Light
  • ·         Mardi Gras Den
  • ·         Mini-Warehouse
  • ·         Printing Establishment
  • ·         Research & Development
  • ·         Warehouse
  • ·         Wholesale Goods Establishment
  • ·         Community Center
  • ·         Convent and Monastery
  • ·         Cultural Facility
  • ·         Government Offices
  • ·         Hospitality Center
  • ·         Place of Worship
  • ·         Public Works and Safety Facility
  • It is unclear what a “Neighborhood Commercial Establishment” is and what is intended by introducing this as a new use.  It appears that various uses will be permitted within this category of use, which is so loosely defined.
  • As you know, all neighborhoods fear that without warning, nuisance establishments like bars  can appear in their midst and be difficult to control or eliminate once established. Does the proposed CZO provide any protection against these outcomes? Is the CZO the appropriate instrument to address the problem of ABO licenses attaching to buildings rather than to businesses?
  • Many uses will become either Conditional or Permitted uses under the Proposed CZO that are neither Conditional and/or Permitted under the current CZO.  We question the introduction of more intense uses that could detrimentally harm the character and scale of any neighborhood.
  • As written in the Proposed CZO, it is unclear what the potential impacts and types of development may be with the new “Planned Developments” use.
  • We question why the Proposed CZO proposes to reduce the minimum lot size by nearly 50% within single-family districts.  This may drastically impact many of our older densely developed neighborhoods.

Louisiana Landmarks Society appreciates this opportunity to submit further comments on the proposed CZO. We look forward to hearing your responses to the issues we raise. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these with you further.

Elena Walker