Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Orleans Master Plan Amendments Part 2: Getting Bigger

I started off with the easy stuff in Part 1, but here’s where we’re getting to the bigger changes, and I mean that literally. These are the proposed Master Plan changes to allow buildings that are bigger in scale (size), higher in intensity (more activity allowed), and higher density (more people). Each of these Master Plan Amendments are located in Mid-City, the neighborhood where I live.

First of all, I want to say something about the research that is the foundation of this work. Please keep in mind that hours of reading these Master Plan amendments is a task that 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.

Alphabet Soup

Before we really get into the proposed amendments themselves, it is important to have an idea of how the Master Plan Land Use Map directly affects your community and quality of life. Often when the community discusses Master Plan issues and the zoning allowances that result, we inevitably end up using an alphabet soup of acronyms that are sometimes difficult for citizens to understand. This is by design. The power in many of these Master Plan Land Use Map amendments come from the zoning designations they allow according to the law, but those allowances are anything but obvious to the casual observer.

Think about it this way, if you live in a neighborhood of traditional New Orleans shotgun doubles, and someone comes to you and asks if they can build a 60 foot tall, 5 story building with luxury condominiums with 5,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space that doesn’t require extra parking, you and your neighbors may immediately become alarmed and make time to call the City Planning Commission (CPC) and City Council about how you don’t like that idea.

On the other hand, if the same person comes to you and asks to change the “FLUM” in the Master Plan from “RDL-Pre” to “MUM,” you may not really know what that means, so you don’t say anything. You also may not know what it means six months later when they ask to change the zoning from “HU-RD2 to MU-1,” so you don’t say anything then, either. Fast forward a month later where you get invited to a community meeting and they show you the plans for that 65 foot tall luxury condo tower and the trendy restaurant they plan to open on the first floor. You and your neighbors become alarmed and go to the city, but the city tells you the applicant has been “working with the community for a year” and “nobody had any problems with this plan in the last 12 months.”

Then the city tells you that the zoning allows the applicant to build what they’re asking for. The applicant has already gone through the process, secured the proper land use map changes, and those changes made the zoning changes “consistent with the Master Plan,” and now there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about the decision. CPC and City Council approve the project, some folks on the internet complain about the “corrupt” process, but when you go back and look, everything was done within the letter of the law.

Now, if you ask me about this process, I would tell you there’s a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. My biggest problem isn’t in a “corrupt” system, it is in an obscure system where citizens and voters and taxpayers never really know what is going on in their community until it is too late to say anything about it. I personally find that incredibly undemocratic, and I believe processes like that tear at the fabric of strong communities. While that sort of thing is all technically above board, it breaks the public trust through omission and obfuscation, and citizens throw up their hands and take a fatalistic, disengaged attitude toward their own city government. Sound like any place you know?

That’s why the following amendments are so important – they’re part of an alphabet soup of changes proposed to the Master Plan Land Use Map and they determine the zoning allowed in your neighborhood. These changes may not look like very much when viewed as a combination of letters on a public notice, but they mean a hell of a lot in the legal process of what zoning designations they unlock.

Getting Bigger

Together the Future Land Use Map and the zoning designations they allow determine the scale of buildings (how big they are), the intensity of land use (how much activity they involve), and the density of land use (how many people can live in an area). The following items are on the agenda for the January 24th meeting of the CPC. A list of all Future Land Use Map changes can be found here:

  • Request Number PD-4-6: Councilmember LaToya Cantrell request to change the land use map for 2545-2627 Banks Street from Residential Low Density Pre-War (RLD-Pre) to Mixed Use Low Density (MUL). The big land use change any time you move from RLD-Pre to MUL is the “mixed-use” part, because that increases the kinds of commercial uses available for an area. This is primarily an increase in land use intensity, because commercial uses generate more traffic than residential uses.

    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. (

    My main concern with this proposal is the encroachment of commercial uses into residential areas, and the pressures that will put on the residential units to become commercial units. Thing is, with the VA hospital a block away, Tulane Avenue redevelopment within 200 feet, the Broad Street commercial corridor on the same block, commercial use here may be a foregone conclusion.

  • Request Number PD-4-7: Councilmember LaToya Cantrell request to change the land use map for multiple addresses bounded by Canal Street, S. Broad Street, Cleveland Ave, and S. White Street from a combination of Residential Low Density Pre-War (RLD-Pre) and Mixed-Use Low Density (MUL) to Mixed-Use Medium Density (MUM).

    Here’s a change where things could get really big in a hurry. The way this block is laid out already, you’ve got Mixed Use Low Density (MUL) along Canal and Broad, with Residential Low Density Pre-War (RLD-Pre) on several empty lots facing Cleveland and White and the smaller houses on the other side of those streets. Remember how MUL was described above, and think of Freret Street as an example. That can already happen here, but this proposal is asking to go even bigger.

    MUM opens up a lot of zoning designations that go bigger scale, higher intensity, and higher intensity. 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 opinion? I can see MUM working on Canal Street on the downtown side of Broad, where the monolithic hospital complexes and larger scale buildings are already located. It makes sense to see larger buildings driving towards the skyline downtown. Above Broad, however, the scale of traditional development along Canal is much less monolithic, and I’d like to see it stay that way. There’s already plenty of room and scale to develop property along Canal, since so much is already in the MUL land use map, which already allows a whole range of uses.

  • Request Number PD-4-17: City Planning Commission request to change the land use map for 2644 Palmyra Street from Residential Low Density Pre-War (RDL-Pre) to Mixed Use Low Density (MUL). This is a change like PD-4-6 above, where a residential area is being moved to allow additional commercial uses. This actually increases my concerns about the commercial encroachment I mentioned before with PD-4-6, because this is on the other side of the same block. Though I have to wonder if this is more about the properties facing Broad that are already mapped MUL than anything about this individual property.

  • Request Number PD-4-18: City Planning Commission request to change the land use map for multiple addresses bounded by S. Galvez, Banks, N. White, and St. Louis Street from Mixed-Use Low Density (MUL) to Mixed-Use Medium Density (MUM).

    This is a problem for me, because it makes a blanket land use map change on specific properties within a large area without really letting the folks that live nearby know what is going on. And let’s not mince words here, there are a lot of folks who live nearby one of the properties that will change if this is amendment is approved.

    When the Master Plan was adopted, the parcels along major thoroughfares were remapped and upzoned to encourage larger scale, more intense, and more dense development along those streets. This is why along Canal Street, Broad Street, Galvez Street, and the Greenway the land use map already has most parcels listed as Mixed Use Low Density (MUL). As I’ve already noted and Freret Street has proved, you can already develop an awful lot of residential and commercial spaces within the allowances of MUL land use.

    But since the adoption of the Master Plan and the CZO, that development didn’t happen. Now, in what I think is an attempt to incentivize investment, we’re seeing proposals like this one to allow even larger scale, higher intensity, and higher density uses. What we will be told is that “this isn’t a very big change,” but as I’ve shown above, MUM can get real big real fast.

  • Request Number PD-4-48: Owner initiated request to change the land use map for 3100 Banks Street & 416 S. Lopez Street from Residential Low Density Pre-War (RLD-Pre) to Mixed-Use Medium Density (MUM).

    This one is another in a long set of proposals for this property. The owners have already submitted proposals for zoning changes separate from this Master Plan amendment. Those have been through CPC and will be on the City Council agenda soon enough. (

    The thing is, making one lot Mixed Use Medium Density (MUM) right here in the middle of a low density residential neighborhood does not strike me as the intent of the Master Plan at all. Honestly, if there’s no rhyme or reason to Master Plan land use mapping, and the city will just approve changes like this without regard to the surrounding neighborhood’s historical development pattern, why on Earth do we have a Master Plan or a Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance at all? Proposals like this remind me how many people really just want New Orleans to be Houston where anyone can put any type of building anywhere for any reason.

Now, let’s be clear. Everything I just wrote is my opinion and my opinion only on items of public interest and public policy. 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!

(Just make sure that when you do, identify your opinion appropriately according to the correct Request Number.)

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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