Neighbors complain that the Magazine Street health building is oversized and crowds the sidewalk in ways inconsistent with the adjacent streetscape.

By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

Once it opens, the new Romney Pilate Center on upper Magazine Street promises to help the workout crowd shape up. But because of neighborly unhappiness over the way the building itself bulked up after original designs were approved, the development has already begun reshaping the way the city handles land use decisions.

City Councilmember Susan Guidry, whose district includes the workout club, has secured a commitment from the administration to take a more coherent approach to notifying the public about zoning and land use issues – and to do so before they’re a done deal.

In the case of Romney Pilate Center, neighbors were angered by differences between the plans initially presented to the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the building now nearing completion. Not only does it dwarf other structures in the area, it has limited parking and stands flush against the sidewalk, rather than being set back like its neighbors – the result of incremental changes that occurred as the project  shuttled back and forth between the BZA and the City Planning Commission.

To avoid future surprises of that sort, the Landrieu administration has responded to Council concerns by creating some new rules that will be tested during an upcoming 90-day trial period.

Step One is a revamp of the city’s website to make it easier to find meetings of the myriad agencies, boards and commissions that can have a shaping influence on  land-use decisions.

A second measure requires applicants for permits or variances to post a sign on the property alerting the public that a public hearing has been scheduled.

In addition, the city will be required to notify by mailed postcard all residents, tenants and property owners within 300 feet the boundaries of the property that is subject to an upcoming hearing.

Neighborhood organizations must also be notified by email.

During the pilot program, the city will be forbidden to issue any permits or licenses for projects requiring conditional-use approval without securing a stamp of approval from the City Planning Commission.

Guidry expressed concern that improved meeting notification still might make it difficult to track changes in plans between early and later hearings, but overall she deemed the proposed procedures an “excellent start” to creating better communications for residents.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...