Thursday, May 14, 2015

Happy CZO Day!

City Council is voting on the new comprehensive zoning ordinance today.  Everyone is excited about this. Everyone is also upset for one reason or another. I was going to put together a round-up of local news coverage from today's papers but there isn't any. So that's weird.

Here, instead, is a smattering of opinion published in the preceding months.

The Lens ran a series of op-eds.  In this one, Keith Hardie complains that a draft of the new CZO will allow for too much commercial development in the city's parks.  
The draft CZO pushes in the wrong direction, greasing the skids for commercial development in parks. First, it will broaden the range of permitted commercial and intensive uses of parkland, mainly by making restaurants — now allowed only in a zoo — to be “permitted uses” anywhere in our “regional” parks (Audubon, City, and Joe Brown). What this means is that once a park board has announced its development scheme, the City would be required to issue a permit for a new restaurant without further public review
Here, again, is Hardie opining that relaxed parking requirements for commercial development are a gift to developers and a recipe for neighborhood congestion.
Those cars are going to park somewhere. The idea that people are going to opt for our not-so-great public transit system is, I’m sorry to say, a fantasy. The deregulation is a gift to developers with a thin coating of green paint. It’s green-washing.  It’s Donald Trump in drag as Ralph Nader. To those of us who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid, it’s clear that if the proposed CZO is not amended, traffic in these historic commercial areas will invade surrounding residential neighborhoods, increasing parking on sidewalks and in front yards and generally creating congestion.

A second effect of parking deregulation will be to skew development in favor of cookie-cutter national chains, crowding out the quirkier, locally-owned shops. Chains which can’t now open in historic neighborhoods because their operations require too many parking spaces will be relieved of that burden. So will larger tourist-oriented clubs and restaurants. Our historic and quirky shopping areas will begin to look more like airport terminals, filled with the usual ho-hum corporate logos.
"Donald Trump in drag as Ralph Nader" is a good line.  It describes most of the New Orleans middle class sensibility these days.

Diane Lease gives us a preservationist's point of view on increased commercial development allowances in Marigny.
For one thing, the very diverse downriver neighborhoods are in danger of being turned into colonies — the kind of places where the needs of the people who reside there are considered secondary to the interests of the tourist/hospitality/entertainment industry that caters to visitors.

A look at the Cultural Overlays and Enhancement Corridors prompts this question: What’s in it for us?

And by us I mean the people who choose to live in these residential neighborhoods and whose quality of life will be damaged by the zoning ordinance as currently drafted. Is the last-minute inclusion of citywide extended hours and expansion of alcohol sales and live music on predominantly residential streets really advisable? We, the residents of those streets — again, citywide — haven’t even been consulted.

It shouldn’t be necessary to point this out, but residents are also part of “the culture” that New Orleans markets so aggressively, unless by culture you mean nothing more than what can be commodified, branded, and sold to visitors — whether locals or tourists — seeking nightlife where anything goes, any place, any time.
You don't necessarily have to agree with every word of that.  I don't. But it is pretty clear the city wants to prioritize more nice things for tourists and rich people over the needs of residential neighborhoods. That's something worth paying attention to.

That's the basic message of this ad campaign, more or less.
The radio ad began running Wednesday on WWL-AM and WBOK.

In it, a man’s voice warns residents that the proposed new law will allow developers to build towers along the riverfront “not for ordinary people to enjoy the river but as a place for the rich to play.”

“We all love New Orleans, but right now, some people are lining up at City Hall to turn our New Orleans into their New Orleans,” the voice says. “Why is the city focused on penthouses at the expense of our neighborhoods?”

The Riverfront Alliance objects to a proposed “overlay district” in the ordinance that would allow new structures along some sections of the riverfront to qualify for a 25-foot “height bonus,” bringing a building’s maximum height to 75 feet if it incorporates certain “superior design elements.”

The overlay district would include lots along the river from Jackson Avenue to the Pontchartrain Expressway, in Algiers from Powder Street to Alix Street, and from Esplanade Avenue to the Industrial Canal, excluding the Marigny neighborhood.

Taller residential buildings would “fundamentally change our historic districts,” French Quarter Citizens President Carol Gniady said.
I'm not particularly swayed by the argument against "height" in and of itself.  And I'm certainly not as worried about "late-night bars" as this group seems to be.  I think we ought to have more bars.  That is, more local bars in residential neighborhoods. 

Shutting down bars also poses a potential problem for the city's arts and music scene. A group calling itself the Music And Culture Coalition of New Orleans has documented the ways in which the CZO might impact the live entertainment business here.

But the pattern of development around town is toward more adult Disney playgrounds in Hospitality Zones where nobody actually lives. I wish the neighborhood coalitions were more attuned to this problem than concerned about aesthetic preservation for its own sake the way many of them seem to be. 

Still, a lot of their complaints are valid, if only by accident. Because of this, the new CZO is a big deal. I don't understand why it isn't getting a more intense press treatment this week.  At least there is some live-tweeting going on this afternoon.  Looks like they might be there a while.

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