City Council Meeting on the CZO: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

City Council Meeting on the CZO: 
the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

No matter which side of any particular zoning issue you stand, if you care at all about a fair and open process, genuine citizen participation, and the years of work that New Orleanians put into creating a new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, then last Thursday, May 14 was a dark day.  Despite over 7 years of meetings, hearings, charrettes, workshops, roundtables, and more meetings, amendments were introduced at the 11th hour – some even during the council meeting – and several proposed radical changes for land use in this city, changes that had never been mentioned to the public, much less discussed.

VCPORA Comments Regarding Draft CZO

Below is the cover letter that VCPORA submitted as part of its comments regarding the draft CZO.  The full text of those comments (18 pages worth, referenced to specific sections of the 684-page original document) can be found after the jump.

Dear City Planning Commission Staff and Members:

On behalf of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, I submit the attached comments regarding the draft Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.

Since fall of last year, we have reviewed two drafts of the CZO.  We have a deep appreciation for all the work you have done, and of the input and effort of the thousands of citizens whose participation played a huge part in the development of this document.

VCPORA has been advocating for the protection and preservation of the Vieux Carre forover 75 years, and we appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on this vital guide to development in the city.

We know that you are aware of the profound importance of the French Quarter, not just architecturally and historically, but economically. It is the iconic neighborhood of our city, and one whose unique character and tout ensemble have been enshrined by the Louisiana Supreme Court and our state’s constitution.

As you will see in our detailed notes below, we have numerous questions and comments about the draft CZO. We trust that all will be read, but wanted to list some of the most important issues here:

1. Section 8.1. has been removed from this draft CZO. That language (copy below), whose authority was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, is critical to the future viability of the Vieux Carre and must be returned to the CZO.

Section 8.1. Procedures In Vieux Carré Historic Districts.

No occupancy permit shall be issued by the Director of Safety and Permits, for any change in the use of any existing building until and unless a special permit shall have been issued by the Vieux Carré Commission, except that where no change of exterior appearance is contemplated such permit by the Vieux Carré Commission shall not be required. 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 Carré shall not be injuriously affected.

2. Signs which are garish or otherwise out of keeping with the character of the Vieux Carré shall not be permitted.

3. Building designs shall be in harmony with the traditional architectural character of the Vieux Carré.

4. The value of the Vieux Carré as a place of unique interest and character shall not be impaired.

2.  Security and Operations Plan, Noise Abatement Plan, and several other plans are listed as being required for submission with applications.  However, in most cases there are no standards for what must be included, no designated person to review, and no requirement that the plan be approved (rather than merely reviewed).  We ask that you add this language in all relevant portions.

3.  There is in this draft a provision for new hotels to be allowed in the VCS districts.  We feel strongly that new hotels are not needed in the French Quarter, and urge you to remove this provision.

4.  Adult uses are allowed in this draft in the VCE-1 District, which is the 200 and 300 blocks of Decatur.  We do not believe that allowing additional areas for adult uses is in the best interests of the French Quarter, or for the residents and businesses that are located in and around this district.

5.  We ask that many decisions now made administratively be noticed publicly and timely.  Specifically, we ask that notice (including email notification) be given to all registered parties, and posted to a dedicated page on the city’s website of all zoning text and/or map interpretation requests, applications, and appeals.

6.  To clarify the distinction between primary legal non-conforming uses and casual and intermittent (and generally unpermitted) secondary uses, we ask that you retain and clearly define the 5 hour a day/4 day a week requirement for the establishment of a legal non-conforming use, so that casual and intermittent secondary uses cannot be counted toward the creation of a legal non-conforming use.

7.  To enchance the public’s ability to participate in public hearings, we ask that the CZO include language that requires staff reports to be issued at least 5 business days in advance of the relevant CPC meeting, and 2 days prior to the deadline for written public comment.

Our detailed review is below. We have coded it to the format used in the draft in the hopes that this will make it easy to follow.

It should be noted that we have worked closely with French Quarter Citizens on these comments, and we make a joint request for a meeting with CPC staff before this document is voted on by the CPC.

Again, thank you for all your work, and we look forward to further discussion about the CZO.


Meg Lousteau


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