Government & Politics

City begins new era with approval of master plan

In a long-anticipated final step for a winding process that began shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the City Council unanimously approved a new citywide master plan Thursday

City officials hope the new plan will reduce conflict over development in neighborhoods and help attract new investment by setting clear and consistent rules for building.

“It tells investors that they can come back, that the rules won’t change in the middle of the game,” City Councilwoman-at-large Jackie Clarkson said.

But even as the council unanimously approved the legally binding land-use plan, questions remain about how the city will pay for implementing the reforms it lays out. The effort already has cost the city thousands of hours in manpower and millions of dollars in consulting fees.

In 2007, the city spent $2 million in recovery money to pay the Boston urban design company Goody Clancy to rewrite the city’s notoriously dysfunctional zoning law, redraft zoning maps and complete a master plan that promotes resident involvement in planning decisions and place-based development. While that upfront expense has already been swallowed, City Planning Director Yolanda Rodriguez told council members Thursday that she would be returning to the body with a request for money to carry out the demands made in the plan and “act more proactively and progressively” on neighborhood issues.

Rodriguez made her comment in response to council members who said they wanted each planning district to have its own planner to oversee development. The city’s planning director estimates an added expense of $900,000 on top of the existing $1.3 million annual budget to bulk up the department for increased demand for neighborhood planning. For context, the city’s 2010 spending plan totals $455 million, with officials estimating the year will end with the city $67 million in the red. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has dedicated much time throughout his first 100 days in office discussing the hard choices residents will have to make as the city makes needed cuts.

“This is a city of many needs but right now,” Rodriguez said. “But City Planning’s budget is less than 2 percent of the city’s spending.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the department operated with 30 planners on staff, she said.

“Now we have 14. It’s time to build back capacity.”

The cost of beefing up City Planning will come in addition to another new expense: creating a citizen participation plan. Both the increased planning staff and the creation of a system for resident involvement in neighborhood planning issues were unanimously celebrated Thursday. Yet no one has stepped up with answers for how to pay for the reforms, and Thursday’s council meeting ended with no substantive conversation of the impending financial burden. In the past, planners have discussed using an existing tax dedicated to neighborhood improvement to fund the $2 million annual expense of a citizen participation system.

“We are all excited,” said Gentilly Civic Improvement Association Vice-President Dalton Savwoir. “The citizen participation plan will help bring power to the people, it’ll help people. The hard part will be asking them to pay for it.”

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  • Iberville Man

    I am so pleased by this news. I’ve been a citizen participant in most of the post-Katrina planning efforts and have been very impressed by the master plan’s drafts – I’ve read most of the plan – and I welcome the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, for which work is now underway. This is BIG NEWS: the first master plan in the city’s nearly 300-year history. It’s about time!