The full extent of the disastrous ‘Master Plan’ vote from 2008 is finally coming into focus. The latest poison pill to growth in New Orleans is the ‘Neighborhood Participation Plan’, which was inserted into the authorizing ‘Master Plan’ amendment. This will come as little surprise to anyone who has followed land use and planning issues, as the chief proponent and architect of the dubious notion of a ‘master plan with the force of law’ has been against EVERY new development and any change in this city for decades.

But now we are faced with a so-called “Neighborhood Participation Plan” which threatens to derail any and every new development requiring any sort of variance or zoning change. It adds time and expense and more uncertainty to almost every application to the City Planning Commission.

You can check it out here (this should pop open a PDF)

The New Yellow Box Hoops

All of the yellow boxes are new hoops for getting a conditional use through the process if the NPP gets adopted as is.

The draft of the “Neighborhood Participation Plan” includes:

- A “pre-application” process which extends the timeline for consideration indefinitely.

- A requirement that most zoning changes and some basic variances go through their own specific ill-defined “Neighborhood Participation Plan” that the applicant is expected to pay for and administrate.

- A requirement that the applicant must present, as part of their application, once it finally gets out of the ‘pre-application period, all of opposition and concerns to their application.

- Once the  application  is submitted it can be subject to endless public hearing requirements.

- It writes in special treatment for neighborhood associations which, traditionally, have been more opposed to new development and zoning changes than the public at large.

What it excludes is any protections against groups or individuals attempting to extort concessions that don’t touch specifically on the parcel in the application.

This new method of delaying zoning change requests indefinitely¬† will politicize to an even greater extent an already opaque, convoluted and onerous process. It will lead to needing your neighbor’s permission to use your property as you see fit. It will add an infinite amount of new rings to kiss. Watch for established businesses to manipulate the process to keep out competition.

All of this is against a background of a wholly inadequate zoning code that doesn’t provide flexibility for property owners and makes conditional uses and zoning changes necessary by failing to plan for the obvious notion that narrowly written criteria will exclude the great bulk of what people actually want to do with their property. But it is naturally New Orleans that the rules are put in place so that we can have the privilege of paying to have them relaxed.

So how we fix this, short of doing the smart thing and throwing the whole thing out and starting all over again?

- Remove the pre-application process and requirement.

- If there is a Project Neighborhood Participation Plan to be required, and why would there be, but if there is, it should be paid for and administered by the Planning Commission Office, using the District Planners. And it should be done within the application timetable.

-There should be no increase in fees associated with this Plan, instead it should come from the city’s general fund. It is not the fault of the applicant that the code didn’t take into account their plans.

- If neighborhood associations want special access to the process there should be fees for that special access.

- Remove the provision in the flow chart where an application can be subject to endless public hearings.

We have done enough in New Orleans to empower the endless opposition to growth and development. We are struggling as a city because of it. If we can’t remove this “Neighborhood Participation Plan” at least we can find ways to make it less destructive to the future of New Orleans.

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