Help is Here
City planning applicants have a new ally.
Clashes between businesses and neighborhoods sometimes seem like a regular occurrence in New Orleans. It doesn’t have to be that way, and some key steps are being taken to reduce tensions, promote quality economic development, and preserve neighborhood character—all at the same time!
In August 2013, New Orleans formally adopted the City Planning Commission Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP). This is one part of a larger civic engagement structure proposal put forth by the Committee for a Better New Orleans (full disclosure: I am the president of CBNO).
The NPP requires applicants seeking an action by the Planning Commission to engage the nearby residents and neighborhood association before the formal application process can begin. This includes holding a meeting with the neighbors, discussing the project, getting input, and submitting a report to the commission.
This gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to work out any concerns at the beginning of the project timeline, thus gaining community support for their projects as they subsequently wend their way through the city approval process.
After the measure was adopted, CBNO worked with the planning commission to do a yearlong review of how the NPP has been working. Both residents and applicants were surveyed, and both were generally pleased. To our surprise, applicants actually expressed greater satisfaction with the NPP than residents.
However, problems with the process as it currently stands were identified on both sides of the equation. Business owners said they often were not sure how to make good, clear presentations to the community, while residents wanted more and better information from applicants. Both said that a better understanding of the applicable zoning regulations would be helpful.
In particular, both residents and applicants felt that the NPP meetings had a tendency to get off track, and many expressed a desire to have city staff present to help steer the meetings on a more productive course.
The City Planning Commission staff is already thoroughly overworked, so until New Orleans adopts a full-blown civic engagement structure with personnel expressly allocated for this kind of role, help is not on its way from the government side.
However, as the organization on whose work the NPP is based, CBNO is now offering City Planning Commission applicants NPP Facilitation Services. Business owners can engage these services for specific aspects of the NPP process, such as preparing presentations or facilitating the NPP meeting; or they can hire CBNO to work through the entire NPP process.
Done properly, the NPP truly is an asset to entrepreneurs looking to open, move or expand their businesses. More information about how CBNO can help make the NPP process succeed can be found at nppfacilitation.org.
More Zoning Help is on the Way
The NPP is just one aspect of the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) in New Orleans that is providing some challenges. With its extensive revisions – including new zoning categories, new areas of regulation such as storm-water management, and a host of other new standards – the document represents major change.
However, several efforts are underway to help businesses navigate the new CZO. The New Orleans Business Alliance is working with the Stone Pigman law firm to create a booklet that identifies and explains key aspects of the CZO that business owners should be aware of. The city’s One Stop Shop app brings together several key agencies involved in launching or expanding business operations in a single location. And a nascent effort led by the Urban Conservancy and Latter & Blum is bringing together government, nonprofits and businesses to develop a variety of resources to assist entrepreneurs as they make their way through the new zoning laws.
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.