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3500 St. Claude Avenue (near the intersection of St. Claude Ave & Gallier Street) New Orleans, LA  70117

F.A.Q.

What is the "Master Plan"?

The Plan for the 21st Century, commonly referred to as the Master Plan, reflects the values and priorities that emerged through a community participation process and is grounded in information assembled for the first time in one place. It is the planning framework that will shape New Orleans' physical, social, cultural, environmental and economic future. In short, it describes the kind of city we envision and want to build now and for the future. In 2010, the Plan was unanimously adopted by both the City Planning Commission and the City Council and was signed by Mayor Mitchell Landrieu

 

What is the CZO?

The Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) is the set of laws that govern land use throughout the city of New Orleans. The CZO includes lists of permitted land uses for each of the City's zoning districts, in addition to height limits, setback requirements, urban design standards, operational rules, and other regulations. Zoning determines what kind of activity is allowed on every parcel of land in the city, from residences to businesses.

 

What is the Draft CZO?

The Draft CZO is a working document that has been submitted to City Council for adoption as part of the Master Plan.

 

Who wrote the draft CZO?

The draft CZO has been written by the city planning staff, with assistance from consultants Camiros and Villavaso & Associates, under the direction of the City Planning Commission and City Council, with input from citizens, neighborhood groups, and developers. 

 

When will the CZO be finished?

Throughout 2013, the City of New Orleans held public meetings to present a close-to-final draft of the CZO. Further changes were made in early 2014, and now the draft of the CZO is almost finished. It will be voted into law by the City Council in early 2015. The City Council estimates the CZO will be done by February 2015.

 

What are our concerns with the current draft CZO?

On behalf of our historic neighborhoods, the Riverfront Alliance makes the following requests to the City Council for changes in the CZO:

  • Re-insert Section 8.1 – "Tout Ensemble" and the Authority of the Vieux Carré Commission

  • Eliminate/re-write Section 18.13 – The Riverfront Overlay which includes confusion about building heights along the historic riverfront

  • Remove Article 5 –"The Trojan Horse" that would allow large developments to be exempted from restrictions on such elements as use, density, parking, area, signage and more.

  • Remove new rules in Appendix A allowing non-amplified live music in every food or snack venue city-wide, along with

    liquor licenses and extensions of operating hours.

Read more details about each of these 4 key issues here.

 

What is Section 8.1?

Section 8.1 is a part of the city's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that recognizes the special and fragile nature of the French Quarter and requires that the Vieux Carré Commission (VCC) exercise vigilance over proposed changes of the neighborhood.

 

What does "Tout Ensemble" mean?

"Tout Ensemble" is French for "all together," or "in total" – it means

 

Where does Section 8.1 come from?

In 1936, Article XIV, Section 22A was adopted as an amendment to our State constitution. That amendment authorized the City to create the Vieux Carré Commission, which happened in 1937. Section 8.1 as worded has been part of the City's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance since at least 1953.

 

Text of Section 8.1

Where any change in exterior appearance is contemplated, the Vieux Carré Commission shall hold a hearing, and if it approves such change, it shall issue a special permit to continue the same use, or for any other use not otherwise prohibited in this district, subject to the following conditions and safeguards:

  1. The historic character of the Vieux Carre shall not be injurously affected.
  2. Signs which are garish or otherwise out of keeping with the character of the Vieux Carre shall not be permitted
  3. Building designs shall be in harmony with the traditional architectural character of the Vieux Carre.
  4. The value of the Vieux Carre as a place of unique interest and character and shall not be impared.

 

Why does Section 8.1 have to be in the CZO? Why can't it just be in the VCC's own operational rules?

The CZO is the implementation arm of the Master Plan, and the Master Plan is enshrined in the city charter and has the force of law. Relegating the obligations of 8.1 to agency rules would open them up for alterations, which would leave them vulnerable to changes by the VCC which is a city agency with a politically appointed board of commissioners. To protect the language and integrity of 8.1, it must remain in the CZO.

  

Who benefits from section 8.1?

The 1936 constitutional amendment states that "…should be preserved for the benefit of the people of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana." In the City of New Orleans v. Pergament case (1941), the Louisiana Supreme Court held that "to preserve the antiquity of the whole French and Spanish quarter, the "tout ensemble", so to speak, by defending this relic against iconoclasm or vandalism… The preservation of the Vieux Carré as it was originally is a benefit to the inhabitants of New Orleans generally, not only for the sentimental value of this show place but for its commercial value as well, because it attracts tourists and conventions to the city, and is in fact a justification for the slogan, America's most interesting city."

 

How does 8.1 mesh with the actual zoning of a given parcel? Does 8.1 override zoning?

All land in the city of New Orleans, including the Vieux Carré, has a zoning designation which outlines what is and is not permitted there. The difference in the Quarter is that even if a parcel is zoned to accommodate a certain use, if that is going to be a change of use (as defined in the zoning code), then the Vieux Carré Commission is obligated to examine the details of proposed new use to determine if the repercussions of that particular operation will be harmful to the distinctive and historic character of the neighborhood. As such, 8.1 does not replace or supersede zoning; rather, it imposes an additional layer of review for properties within the French Quarter.

 

Why isn’t Section 8.1 in the final draft of the CZO?

Vieux Carré neighborhood advocates have been participating in the Master Plan and CZO process from the beginning, almost 8 years ago, and never suggested removing Section 8.1; nor were there any public calls for its removal. We noted its absence in the 2013 draft and objected strongly. It was surprising to learn that it had still not been returned in this 2014 draft. When asked why, City Planning staff stated that the removal had been on the advice of the city attorney. When asked for the documents that would illuminate the legal rationale for this advice, the response was that they could not be shared. Two groups are now pursuing this information via the state's public records laws.

 

What would happen if 8.1 were removed?

A lower bar for review of new developments in the French Quarter would mean that such proposals would not be subject to examinations as to whether the new uses would benefit or harm the Vieux Carré. Neighbors (including neighboring businesses) would lose out on the opportunity for a public discussion of the pluses and minuses of proposed new developments. Given that the VCC is charged with evaluating changes of use based on 4 distinct criteria, that those criteria were developed so that the tout ensemble would be protected, and that the state constitution and Supreme Court affirmed that the preservation of the Vieux Carré is a benefit to the city and entire state, it stands to reason that New Orleans as a whole would lose out were 8.1 to be removed.

 

Section 18.13: The Riverfront Overlay

Does the Riverfront Alliance object to 18.13 because they are just opposed to any change?

No. Change is inevitable and nobody is saying that the empty lots in Bywater, Marigny and Algiers Point shouldn't be developed. The Riverfront Alliance supports development that respects the architectural integrity of our neighborhoods and includes meaningful citizen and neighborhood input.

 

What's the big deal about Section 18.13 allowing taller buildings on the riverfront?

It's a big deal for many reasons. The most significant is that it creates an anomaly of scale between the surrounding neighborhood and the new buildings. The Riverfront Alliance believes in inclusive neighborhoods that are for everyone. Other objections to height include: 1) irrevocable loss of our historic 19th century cityscape, 2) loss of views and open skies, 3) lack of infrastructure to support such large buildings, 4) the effect of driving pilings for tall buildings on the integrity of the flood wall/levee, 5) wind tunnel effects during storms that send debris into the neighborhoods.

 

Don't we need to build bigger and taller to address the current housing shortage?

No. A recent study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation demonstrates that historic buildings support greater population density and more businesses than modern high rises. Of course, we can't build new historic buildings, but we can build in ways that reflect and respect the historic scale of our neighborhoods and the concerns of neighborhood residents.

 

If we build bigger buildings, won't rents and housing prices go down?

No. Supply and demand curves don't really apply to housing. Supply and demand curves work well to predict the price of commodities such as oil because any barrel of oil is the same as any other barrel of oil, but any square foot of housing is not the same as any other square foot of housing. Its cost is determined by more than just supply. Location, location, location! Location is important because it determines access to amenities such as schools and shopping, but location is also important because of local real estate markets. If the new developments are designed to attract wealthy buyers, local rents and housing prices will go up!

 

Historic neighborhoods have been losing population. Wouldn't the "density bonus" allow

more people to enjoy living in our historic neighborhoods? No. The number of housing units a developer can build is determined by the square footage of the lot. The "density bonus" allows a developer to build bigger buildings, but not more housing units (that's fixed by the size of the lot). Therefore, all the density bonus does is allow developers to build larger, more expensive housing units.

 

To get the height and density bonuses, don't developers have to provide some affordable units?

No. The Riverfront Overlay allows height and density bonuses even without inclusion of any affordable housing units. Furthermore, the Riverfront Overlay lets developers build 75% bigger buildings if they set aside 5% of the housing units for affordable rentals. Developers in other parts of the city must set aside 15% of housing units for affordable rentals in order to build buildings that are 30% bigger. The Riverfront Alliance believes that developers in historic neighborhoods should be held to the same affordable housing standards as developers in the rest of the city.

 

Doesn't the Riverfront Overlay prevent a "monolithic wall" of 50 foot buildings?

No, in fact it allows it. Developers are restrained to a maximum total floor space in new buildings that depends on the size of the lot. Under the proposed limit, a developer can't build over the entirety of the lot if the building is going to be 50 feet tall. That encourages the builder to vary the height of the building with some parts of the roof higher than others and with some space between buildings. Such variation makes for a more attractive streetscape. The "density bonus" would allow a developer to build a 50 foot tall building over the entirety of the lot.

 

Why shouldn't developers have the right to build whatever they want on their lot?

Building in an historic neighborhood is a privilege. Further, we live in a city with zoning laws: this ain't Houston. Zoning rules are important to balance the rights of property owners with the rights of communities.