BGR: A Trojan Horse In The Draft CZO
NEW ORLEANS – The Bureau of Governmental Research today releases “A Trojan Horse in the Draft CZO.” This report explains, analyzes and takes positions on a particular part of the new master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance, which they say was supposed to bring clarity and predictability to the land use decision-making process in New Orleans.
The BGR say they take issue with “Article 5: Planned Development Standards” in the draft CZO. They say it works against the overall goal by allowing exceptions to all of the most basic zoning rules in exchange for project features that create a “substantial benefit” for the city.
The BGR is a private, nonprofit, independent research organization. They say, since its founding in 1932, they have been dedicated to informed public policy-making and the effective use of public resources in the Greater New Orleans area.
In the BGR’s report, they say Article 5 provides little guidance as to decision making and allows wide-ranging discretion. It creates confusion and potentially opens the way for a return to the let’s-make-a-deal approach that has plagued land use decision making in years past.
They say they have raised concerns about Article 5 with each successive draft of the new CZO. While the article has improved over time, they say, the BGR’s core concerns remain unaddressed.
The BGR’s report’s conclusion states at this late stage of the game, with the City Council moving quickly toward final approval of the draft CZO, the prospects for creating an acceptable revision seems bleak. For that reason, the BGR says they recommend the City Council eliminate Article 5. In its current form, the article puts up for grabs hundreds of pages of zoning rules that have absorbed vast amounts of civic energy and taken years to fashion.
However, should the council proceed with Article 5, the BGR says it should at a minimum do the following:
• Eliminate the general provision that puts all zoning regulations on the bargaining table in exchange for benefits. Also eliminate the smorgasbord of potential beneficial project features to be used in exchange for zoning exceptions.
• Instead, craft a set of district-specific sections setting forth the relevant challenges the city hopes to address in each area. Each section should contain:
– A clear statement of intent identifying what problem the section is attempting to solve and how that problem relates to the geographic areas covered.
– Strategies that flow directly from that statement.
– A statement specifying which zoning rules can be bent, with a narrative explaining why exceptions to such rules relate to the stated intent and strategies. There should be clear limitations on the exceptions.
– Detailed guidelines for decision-making bodies to use in determining whether the exceptions requested for a development are necessary to advance the strategy for that district category.
If the challenges and strategies to address them in a given type of zoning district cannot be clarified, the pertinent section should be struck from Article 5. The article could be amended later, if suitable strategies are created.
• Make the minimum site size requirements ironclad. The language allowing exceptions to the minimum if “there are … exceptional circumstances affecting the property” should be struck. Consideration should be given to increasing the minimum site sizes, so that fewer sites across the city are thrown into play.