Save the French Quarter: Protect the NOLA Master Plan

(rendering by Harry Baker Smith Architects)

City Planning Commission Accepting Applications for Amendments to the Master Plan through July 29

 Last fall, the City Planning Commission announced it would begin accepting applications in 2016 to amend the Master Plan. The amendments are needed to update and the prioritize the City’s capital improvement needs, transportation facilities, environmental regulations, housing and land use policies, and other aspects of municipal functions. The Master Plan is a “City Charter-mandated planning framework for the core systems that shape New Orleans’ physical, social, environmental, and economic future.” Our City Charter requires a review of the Master Plan a minimum of once every five years, or in response to a disaster or other “declared emergency.”

 

The following schedule is set for the 2016-2017 Master Plan amendments:

  • Organization/Outreach (1/1/16 – 4/24/16)
  • Open Application Period (4/25/16 – 7/29/16)
  • Charter-mandated review and approval process (8/1/16 – 7/15/17)

 

On March 3, 2016, the City Council approved an Ordinance (No. 026879) establishing fees for processing and reviewing certain Master Plan amendments. For any requested changes to the Future Land Use Maps (FLUM), applications must be submitted with the required fees: $1,000 for properties between zero and 4,999 square feet, $2,000 for properties between 5,000 and 24,999 square feet of lot area, $3,000 for properties between 25,000 and 74,999 square feet, and $4,000 for those properties higher than 75,000 square feet of lot area. Likewise, there is a $1,500 for each application for Master Plan text changes Volume II, Chapter 14, the Land Use Plan.

 

For more information and a link to download an application please visit the City Planning Commission website: visit www.nola.gov/city-planning/mpamendments.

To review the Master Plan, visit www.nola/gov/city-planning/master-plan

 

Your contribution will assist in making sure that the Master Plan has the force of law throughout New Orleans

The New Orleans City Council recently approved construction of an out of scale development in the French Quarter that, if built, will cause irreparable harm. READ THE CITY COUNCIL TRANSCRIPT HERE 

The hotel project is in clear violation of the City Charter, which requires that land use decisions and zoning be consistent with the city’s Master Plan. The City Council ignored the strong recommendation of the City Planning Commission that this project be denied. READ THE COMMISSION STAFF REPORT HERE

 

Two towers, one reaching as high as 190 feet are proposed to be built in the 100-block of Royal Street, where the maximum height limit is 70 feet. 

 

Louisiana Landmarks Society, Smart Growth for Louisiana, the Preservation Resource Center, the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates, (VCPORA) and French Quarter Citizens Inc., along with individual French Quarter residents and/or business owners have filed for a preliminary injunction in Civil District Court to stop the New Orleans City Council from further action regarding the development of this high-rise hotel, known as the Royal Cosmopolitan, located at 121 Royal Street. READ THE FULL LAWSUIT FILE HERE.

 

For more information regarding the legal basis for such an injunction, read the Bureau of Governmental Research's analysis of the Master Plan HERE:

YOU ARE INVITED TO A FUN-DRAISER ON FEBRUARY 25!

*RSVP (required) to to 504.581.7200 or protecttheNOLAmasterplan@gmail.com

We need your help to make sure the Master Plan has the force of law throughout New Orleans.

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PRESS RELEASE

Save the French Quarter: Protect the NOLA Master Plan 

November 19, 2015                         

Louisiana Landmarks Society, Smart Growth for Louisiana, the Preservation Resource Center, the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Residents and Associates, (VCPORA) and French Quarter Citizens Inc., along with three individual French Quarter residents and/or business owners filed for a preliminary injunction in Civil District Court today to stop the New Orleans City Council from further action in approving the development of a high-rise hotel, known as the Royal Cosmopolitan, located at 121 Royal Street.

 

The City Council approved a conditional use and waiver of height restrictions for the project, which the litigants claim is in violation of City Charter Sections 5-404(3)(c), 5-406 (i.e. the Master Plan), and the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) 16.6.4. and 16.6.5.

 

Pending trial, the named plaintiffs, including residents, business owners, preservation organizations and neighborhood advocacy groups will also ask the Court for a declaratory judgment that, as a matter of law, the Council’s recent approval of this project is in violation of the Master Plan and therefore null and void.  Such an order from the Court would prevent the Royal Cosmopolitan zoning proposal from going forward in its current state.

 

“The project is not consistent with its land use designation in the Master Plan, which has the force of law. Nor is it consistent with the Master Plan’s historic preservation chapter,” said Sandra Stokes, Chair of Advocacy for Louisiana Landmarks Society. “The variances required are extraordinary. There are no special circumstances that are particular to the property to justify these sorts of exceptions. Moving forward with this project despite it being in direct and clear violation of the Master Plan is not only illegal, but would set a precedent that would render the Master Plan and recently adopted CZO effectively obsolete.”

 

According to the lawsuit, protection and preservation of the Historic Vieux Carré is mandated by the State Constitution, and even the Louisiana Supreme Court has noted the importance of preserving the quaint and historic character of New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods as the foundation of the City’s economic engine. The New Orleans City Planning Commission recommended the Royal Cosmopolitan project be denied for many of these same reasons, and last year, the Louisiana Landmarks Society put the New Orleans Master Plan on its “Nine Most Endangered List”.

 

“The City Council acted arbitrarily and capriciously, ignoring the law and the recommendations of its own planning body to approve a development which, according to the city’s own City Planning Commission, would have a negative impact on adjacent land uses and would substantially alter the character of this portion of the French Quarter, which is essentially the entrance to the Historic Vieux Carré,” the lawsuit states.

 

The Council majority acted on Nov. 5, 2015 to approve the out-of-scale 190-foot hotel, with only At Large Member Stacy Head and District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry opposing. The project is located in Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s District, which includes the French Quarter.

 

“This is a high rise in the middle of a block - in a National Register Historic District,” said Peter Trapolin, architect. “It will be disastrous during the construction period, blocking Royal Street traffic and businesses for close to two years. There is no access to even get material to the site.  You will have to either hoist it over the existing buildings – or drag it through the front door of the historic hotel.   And once built, every bar of soap, every piece of laundry, every delivery and service truck will have to stop on Royal Street– since there is no parking and no loading.”

 

Litigants claim the City Council must respect the city’s Master Plan’s force-of-law provisions regarding existing height, scale, density, and character of a neighborhood. According to the City Charter, the City Council’s approval is null and void because “[a]ny zoning ordinance or amendment adopted by the Council must be consistent with the Master Plan. Inconsistent ordinances and amendments shall be null and void as provided by Section 5-404(3)(c).”

 

“Although there are examples of a few tower hotels within the district, these hotels are exceptions to the norm, built in the 1970s and 80s, and do not reflect the current context in which the goals of the Master Plan were established. The development proposal is inconsistent with the site’s Mixed Use Downtown future land use designation, which requires new development to be sensitive and appropriate when situated near or within historic districts,” said Carol Gniady, French Quarter Citizens.

 

Furthermore, the approval of the conditional use and waiver of the height restriction exceeds the authority granted to the City Council under the CZO because the City Council waiver failed to address and meet the required benchmarks in the law required to grant the conditional use and the waiver of the height restrictions, argues the suit. The City Planning Commission noted such in its Reasons for Recommendation for Denial:

 

The proposed tower is excessive, out-of-scale, and fundamentally incompatible with its surroundings. The site is located in a portion of Canal Street where building height is limited to 70 feet in order to ensure that new construction respects the scale and character of this historic commercial corridor comprised predominantly of four (4) to six (6) story buildings.

 

The waiver of the Central Business District Height and Floor Area Ratio Interim Zoning District’s height limit cannot be justified. The request does not fulfill any of the three (3) standards for waivers of Interim Zoning Districts, as contained in Article 16, Section 16.4.5 of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. The proposal is inconsistent with the general intent of the IZD.

 

The proposal is inconsistent with the Master Plan. The tower addition does not relate to the predominant development form of the area nor is it even at all sensitive to the architectural aesthetic of the Canal Street and Vieux Carré districts. The proposal is also not consistent with the Master Plan’s historic preservation chapter, which emphasizes the importance of historic structures in giving the city its character and linking its identity with its cultural heritage.

 

“The purpose of the Master Plan was to eliminate the kind of ad hoc, special-interest-driven decision making that we are seeing with this development,” said attorney William Borah, President of Smart Growth for Louisiana. “The citizens of New Orleans spent years amending the City Charter and creating a Master Plan to provide predictability, with a clear set of rules that everyone was required to follow. 

 

“Yet here we are, only three months since the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance was implemented – a zoning ordinance required to be consistent with the Master Plan -- and already the City Council is breaking its own set of rules to appease a particular developer. Simply put, the Royal Cosmopolitan proposal is not consistent with the Master Plan and is in clear violation of the new zoning ordinance. The Master Plan, which has the force of law, was voted in by citizens to prevent just this type of egregious behavior. Thus, we now turn to the court,” said Mr. Borah.  

 

Added Architect Trapolin, “There is no going backwards from this mistake.  This project will irreparably harm the French Quarter for the rest of eternity.  It is simply the wrong project in the wrong place.”

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OTHER SOURCES: 

New Orleans Advocate - 

French Quarter groups file suit to block high-rise hotel in 100 block of Royal Street

Jeff Adelson, November 20, 2015

An array of French Quarter and preservationist groups is calling on the courts to reverse the City Council’s preliminary approval of a 190-foot-tall hotel and condominium development near Royal and Iberville streets.

 

The lawsuit, filed late Thursday afternoon in Civil District Court, accuses the council of violating the city’s Master Plan by giving the green light to the Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel development, which it says would be more than 2 1/2 times as tall as the height limit in the area and inconsistent with the historical character of the Quarter...READ MORE HERE.

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NOLA.COM

New Orleans City Council keeps Royal Cosmopolitan hotel dreams afloat 

Richard Rainey, November 5, 2015

Undeterred by last-minute revisions, the reservations of city planners or protests from downtown residents, the New Orleans City Council Thursday (Nov. 5) let plans to build a 20-story-tall hotel at the edge of the French Quarter proceed.

The council voted 5-2 to waive a number of legal restrictions on what may one day be the new Royal Cosmopolitan hotel at 121 Royal Street -- not the least of which being a generous break on the height limits for buildings in that neighborhood...READ MORE HERE.

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New Orleans Advocate - 

Controversial French Quarter tower gets preliminary OK, but big hurdle remains

Jeff Adelson, November 5, 2015

A condo and hotel project that’s become the latest flash point in the debate over the future of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood won preliminary approval from the City Council on Thursday.

The vote may clear the way for a 190-foot tower on Royal Street on the edge of the French Quarter that would rival the height of other nearby hotels, but only if it can overcome opposition from neighborhood groups and skepticism from some council members.

The latest version of the Royal Cosmopolitan project at 121 Royal St., which was publicly unveiled at the council meeting, trims the height of the proposed tower to 20 stories — six fewer than in a plan opposed by the City Planning Commission over the summer — but would still rise about 120 feet above the area’s height limit...READ MORE HERE.

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