Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Master Plan Amendments Part 3: Every Major Street

I started off with the easy stuff in Part 1 and got into the bigger changes in Part 2.  This is Part 3, and it is the last of this series to really deal with Master Plan Map changes. It will only involve one proposed change, but this one is a doozy.

While you read this, remember that City Planning has already scheduled their public hearings for January 24 and 31. If you want to get your thoughts to them about any of this, the deadline is coming soon.

Again, I want to make sure I first remind readers that I didn’t get all this information alone. Hours of reading through these Master Plan amendments was completed by individuals I would love to cite. Because I am doing what I can to spread the word about these changes on the internet, however, they have chosen to remain quietly in the background. Additionally, because my post is primarily an expression of my own opinion, it wouldn’t do to associate their work with my thoughts. Like many reasonable people, there are places where we disagree.

That said, I want to thank them. They know who they are, and they are doing tremendous work helping keep the community informed.

The Change

Request by Councilmember Jason Williams to move every spot currently designated Mixed Use Low Density (MUL) to Mixed Use Medium Density (MUM), if it is located within 500 feet of a designated transit corridor.

This proposed change is so big and so sweeping it doesn’t even really have a Request number, and would affect the Master Plan land use map city-wide, but it would have a tremendous effect in Mid-City. The change is so far reaching, CPC staff just added it to the Planning District maps shaded in gray. You can see this here:

In Mid-City this affects almost every major transportation corridor.

  • On City Park Ave at the I-10
  • On City Park Ave from the Cemeteries to Bienville Street
  • On Carrollton Ave from Ulloa to Orleans 
  • On Canal Street between Helena and Anthony 
  • On Canal Street from Bernadotte to St. Patrick 
  • On Canal Street from Hennessey to Galvez
  • Every block between Canal Street and Bienville Ave from Carrollton to Jefferson Davis Parkway
  • Jefferson Davis Parkway from Canal to Toulouse
  • Properties adjacent to the Lafitte Greenway from N. Anthony Street to N. Carrollton, from Conti to Toulouse Street
  • Between Toulouse and Orleans Ave from N. Carrollton to N. Cortez
  • Between Conti and the Lafitte Greenway from Jeff Davis Parkway to Claiborne Ave
  • Broad Street starting at Banks Street and going all the way out to O’Reilly Street (just this side of St. Bernard) 
  • Between the Lafitte Greenway and Toulouse Street from the Bayou to N. Rocheblave, bumping out to St Peter Street along the way
  • Along Ulloa Street between S. Scott and S Telemachus
  • Along d’Hemmecourt between S. Clark and S. Lopez
  • Along Baudin from S. Dupre to S. White

That’s a lot. And that’s just in the Mid-City area. But this is a city-wide change. I can’t believe more people haven’t heard about it, because this is a big one.

But What Does This Do? 

In Part 2, I talked about how the power in many of these Master Plan Land Use Map amendments come from the zoning designations they allow according to the law. While moving from the alphabet soup of MUL to MUM doesn’t sound like a whole lot, the trick is just how many different zoning designations come into play when an area is zoned MUM. This change is significant.

Here’s what to think about, when the Master Plan and CZO were adopted, the MUL designation already represented a move to larger scale (size), intensity (use), and density (how many people could live there). MUL would open zoning that allows smaller Neighborhood Business Districts (HU-B1 and HU-B1A), as well as a zoning designation called Historic Urban Mixed-Use (HUMU).

While everything is dependent on the size of the parcel, HUMU zoning allows three story buildings up to 40 feet tall, which could include up to 5000 square feet of ground floor commercial without requiring additional parking, and residential units (apartments or condos) on the second and third floor. When considering changes to MUL on the Land Use Map, a good example to think of is Freret Street between Jefferson and Napoleon, especially by Cadiz Street. (

(Picture of what is already allowed.)

Any move from MUL to MUM opens zoning designations that go even bigger in scale, higher intensity, and higher density. While this would include the rather innocuous Multi-Family Residential Districts (HU-RM1 & HU-RM2), even those can put hundreds of apartments or condos on a block if the parcel was big enough and developers applied for high enough density bonuses. (

But the big changes with MUM on the land use map comes from Medium Intensity Mixed-Use 1 (MU-1). This is the 60 foot tall, 5 story, ground floor commercial, above ground residential zoning that’s best Mid-City examples would be the American Can and the recently approved Edwards Communities apartments along the Greenway. (

My Thoughts

First of all, when they start talking about this proposed change, we’re going to hear a lot about lack of housing and affordability and how we’ll have a more equitable city if we can just add more (luxury) units in the inevitable condo towers and apartment complexes that will result from this change. Developers and builders will get “density bonuses” for adding affordable units that should help struggling renters, at least in theory. We’ll also hear a lot about “transit oriented development” and how important it is this city allow developers to pack as many people into 600 square foot apartments as possible. Real estate experts will trot out years-old market studies that say there are millions of millennials and young professionals with cash in their pockets who would move to New Orleans and help improve our city and expand our tax base if we just find places for them to live. They’re all supposed to show up without cars, hip to ride bikes and streetcars and buses and Uber to their jobs.

We’ll hear about how we need to upzone and deregulate and lower parking requirements, and that will be the key to New Orleans’ burgeoning economic revival.

I don’t buy that fairy tale for a minute. You know why? We already re-mapped, we already upzoned, and we already lowered parking requirements. All of that happened in the Master Plan and CZO years ago, and the promised development never showed up.

Oh, it showed up on Freret Street and Magazine Street. There are plenty of shiny new 2 and 3 story buildings with ground floor retail and residential apartments upstairs. Stuff like that is already eligible in every one of these MUL areas, provided it is zoned correctly. And based on how easily the city hands out zoning changes, anyone who applies pretty much gets what they want.

(Picture of what is already allowed.)

But in Mid-City? At major intersections (transit hubs), we got drive through pharmacies and drive through banks and new stand-alone ER’s and proposals for fast food joints. Land use and zoning isn’t the problem in our neck of the woods, because folks can already build a whole lot in all of these areas that area already mapped MUL.

And let’s not forget all the areas of Mid-City that are already remapped MUM. All the old warehouses over by the Greenway, where the Edwards Communities apartments are going to go? They were remapped MUM over 5 years ago and upzoned MU-1 in the CZO. Edwards was the first group of folks to take advantage of those rules, and they demanded density bonuses AND tax breaks to do it. The other spots that were remapped and upzoned the last time around were all along Tulane Avenue, and we’re only just now seeing the promised redevelopment over there.

What if the thing they were waiting for was the next Master Plan amendment process? With sweeping changes like this one, I have to wonder if the Master Plan having the “force of law” really has any meaning whatsoever.

Because this change puts properties in play you never thought would be in play. The brickyard between St. Patrick and Alexander? How much more is that worth as 300 luxury condominiums? All that city land between the Greenway and Lafitte Street? How long before we hear about some public/private partnership to put hundreds of luxury apartments like a wall between the neighborhood and the bike path? Who knows where else.

Some of y’all reading this are probably thinking “hell yeah, let’s build some more luxury condos in Mid-City.” That’s fair. But say so. My problem with all this is how it hides behind alphabet soup of designations and urban planning buzzwords. You want a bunch of 65 foot tall apartment buildings along the Greenway from City Park Avenue to Claiborne, say that and let the voters hear you say it.
Because a lot of those theories aren’t holding up elsewhere when they run into the details.

How much pressure would this change put on empty lots and historic homes in that footprint? How much would this change affect the price of housing? It sure isn’t going to make it cheaper, that’s for sure. When the folks with the market studies tell me I’d be getting an affordable deal by spending $200,000 on a 700 square foot condo, we’re either living in a real estate bubble or it is time for me to move my middle-class address to a different neighborhood.

Thing is, this type of thing is going on in cities all over the country, and it isn’t working. What they’re starting to see is that potential property values are killing affordability. Think about it this way: if you’ve got a $300,000 Mid-City home on one lot and a $3,000,000 five-story condo tower down the block, how much is an empty lot in the middle worth? How much are those fixer-uppers in the middle worth? What incentive does a property owner have to maintain their old rental unit when they could just let it fall down or catch fire and get in on the 5-story luxury condo game? The MUL to MUM change puts an awful lot of dynamics like that in play.

So, yeah. You could say I’m not a fan of this change. I didn’t move to Atlanta 10 years ago, I moved to New Orleans. And I didn’t move to the CBD or the Warehouse District when I chose a place in New Orleans to live. I chose Faubourg St. John, Parkview, and Mid-City.

Thanks for reading. This is all for the Master Plan Map changes. Amendments are up next.

Now, let’s be clear. Everything I just wrote is my opinion and my opinion only. If you see something on here you don’t like, or something that you do, don’t complain to me. I’m only some guy writing stuff on the internet. Ain’t nothing I can do for you I ain’t already done.

If you want to fuss at someone who CAN do something, contact a city decision-maker. For stuff like this, that’s the City Planning Commission and your City Council members. You don’t have to be some sort of expert. This is America, all you have to have to talk to your government decision makers is an opinion. We live in a participatory democracy, so feel free to participate!

To tell the CPC what you think, email CPCINFO@NOLA.GOV. They’ll put your thoughts in the public record for any proposal. Full contact info here for letters & phone calls:

If you want to take it a step further, tell your City Council members:

Remember that no matter where you live in New Orleans, you have 3 representatives on the Council, your district reps and the two at-large members.

And don’t forget to share your thoughts with your neighborhood organization. Neighborhood organizations don’t have any power and can’t do much, but they do host meetings and communicate with the city on a regular basis. Letting them know how you feel can go a long way to amplify your voice.

If you’re in Mid-City, you can reach Mid-City Neighborhood Organization at (


Back in 2008, the citizens of New Orleans voted to amend the City Charter and give the Master Plan the force of law. I was one of the folks who voted for it, because everyone I knew who was engaged in a land use or zoning situation complained about the capriciousness nature of the process and the mysteries that clouded every decision. Like so many reforms, the intent was to make city planning and land use decisions more transparent, easier to understand, more equitable, and more accessible. It was thought that giving the Master Plan the force of law would remove some of the ad hoc decision making from the process.

Some of these reforms worked. Others didn’t. But one thing the Master Plan did require was a formal amendment process. Guess what time it is? You got it. Amendment time.

City Planning has already scheduled their public hearings for January 24 and 31. You can see what amendments will be on which agenda on their website (

I didn’t make any of this up, y’all. You can find all the information online at the CPC website. And if you’re not in Mid-City, don’t worry, there are plenty of Master Plan amendments for your neighborhood, too. You should talk to your neighbors about them.

New Orleans CPC Master Plan amendments webpage:

New Orleans CPC Master Plan amendments (itemized):

You can also view where the proposed Master Plan changes are on a map of your neighborhood. Go to the above link, scroll to the bottom, and click on your neighborhood map.

Mid-City is in Planning District 4 with Treme:

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