Land Use

Proposed zoning ordinance amendments: a gift to the booze biz; raw deal for neighborhoods

Restaurants would become vendors of packaged goods to-go if the amendments are approved.

Jed Horne

Restaurants would become vendors of packaged goods to-go if the amendments are approved.

Thousands of us gave time and our insights to community meetings that helped shape New Orleans’ recently approved Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. If you were in that number, you assumed — as promised — that your contribution would matter, that land use in your neighborhood would be guided by citizen input, that the CZO would reflect the hopes and desires of you and your neighbors.

You may be in for a rude awakening.

In a last-minute move, a City Council member has introduced a barrage of complicated amendments that, if adopted, will, among other things, scatter de facto liquor stores throughout the city and turn courtyards into entertainment venues. In short, the proposals will fundamentally change the way restaurants, bars, and clubs operate in the city’s many mixed-use neighborhoods.

Councilmember Ramsey

New Orleans City Council

Council Member Ramsey

The proposed 11th-hour changes to the CZO are the work of Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes Algiers and the French Quarter. Without warning or any kind of public notice, she tried to insert her liquor-friendly amendments into the CZO, effectively sabotaging a document that the City Planning Commission and legions of citizens spent years crafting.

The City Council will consider her proposals at its Thursday meeting. If passed, they undermine the integrity of every neighborhood in our city.

The intent of these amendments is clear: to allow restaurants, bars and entertainment venues unfettered expansion opportunities, at the expense of New Orleans residents and neighborhoods. All too many New Orleanians have no idea what’s in store should Ramsey’s package of amendments pass.

Since I advocate for the French Quarter as a neighborhood, I’m particularly concerned about Ramsey’s amendments that would allow entertainment, both live and recorded, in Quarter courtyards. That’s always been prohibited for good reason: by their nature, these open-air spaces cannot contain sound.

Given the dense, mixed-use nature of the city’s oldest neighborhood, opening this can of worms would be disastrous not only for nearby residential uses, but also for businesses. Imagine one establishment trying to drown out the sound coming from another one next door, which responds by upping its volume. Now imagine 10 such businesses, all in the same block.

But while the French Quarter may be particularly vulnerable, most of Ramsey’s amendments would affect every neighborhood in New Orleans — Gentilly, New Orleans East, Mid-City, Lakeview, Carrollton, Broadmoor, the Irish Channel, you name it. And you, the neighbor, would have no say in the matter.

One amendment removes the size limit on “holding bars,” basically, small bars that often serve as waiting areas in restaurants. (Both the old and new CZOs say they can’t exceed 15 percent of a restaurant’s floor area.) Another amendment changes the definition of restaurant, removing the requirement that sale of alcohol be “incidental to food sales.” Put the two amendments together, and you’ve got a new generation of establishments that could legally operate as a restaurant during breakfast and lunch, and as a bar at night. By the same token, a weekday restaurant could transform on weekends into a bar.

The new CZO recognizes that most of the complaints about neighborhood alcoholic beverage outlets spring from safety and noise issues — which is why ABOs are required to submit plans addressing these concerns. Ramsey’s gift to the liquor industry strips away that requirement and spares ABOs from having to include in their applications for licensure the traditional list of all churches, schools, and playgrounds within 300 feet of their proposed locations.

Liquor sales and playgrounds do not make good neighbors, as the folks around Stallings Playground in the Fairgrounds Triangle neighborhood can attest.  They worked for years to stop liquor sales at one convenience store within 50 feet of Stallings, only to face another store across the street attempting to sell alcohol. Thanks to their work, the playground has been transformed into a place safe again for children and families. But why should citizens have to constantly fight these battles? Weakening the scant protections provided by the CZO is not the answer.

Ramsey also targets the part of the new CZO that requires restaurants offering entertainment to keep doors and windows closed during performances. Containing sound while a band is playing or while a party is underway makes sense, given the number of restaurants that are in mixed-use areas, with homes at close range. Good luck getting your children to sleep before closing time, however, if the restaurant down the street has booked a wedding party and thrown open its doors and windows to the cool night air. Ramsey’s amendment throws your family’s needs right out the window as well.

The biggest bombshell in her misbegotten slate of amendments is Ramsey’s intent to allow every standard restaurant in New Orleans to operate as a liquor store. The bureaucratic wording of her amendment extends permission to sell packaged liquor  to any “restaurant, standard, which may sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises or which may sell alcoholic beverages for consumption off-premises when sold in conjunction with meals to go.” In other words, any restaurant that offers take-out food — which is virtually all of them — could sell packaged liquor as well, becoming, in effect, a liquor store.

These amendments will increase crime. These amendments will undermine neighborhood integrity. These amendments are crafted without any concern for the residential community in which commercial establishments exist.

Not surprisingly, New Orleans citizens and neighborhoods were given no opportunity to study or comment on the amendments before Ramsey rolled them out.  Since then, she’s refused to take questions on them at numerous public meetings.  And citizens groups seeking meetings with Ramsey to hear her explain her actions have been rebuffed. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this package of amendments has been drafted with but one set of beneficiaries in mind: vendors of  alcohol.

This is not how we build good neighborhoods. This is not how we increase transparency in government. If you value your home, your neighborhood, your school, your church, your playground, and your family’s ability to live in and enjoy your community, let Ramsey and her colleagues know. Tell them that these amendments are wrong for New Orleans.

Meg Lousteau is the executive director of the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates, Inc., and a fifth-generation New Orleanian.

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  • Get a grip, Meg, the sky’s not really falling. New Orleans needs money and Ms. Ramsey’s proposals will feed the coffer with alcohol tax revenues from eager & willing adult tourists in French Quarter bars, clubs & restaurants. Rich people like you and your organization shouldn’t even be living in the ‘Quarter with attitudes like that; besides, you are displacing housing for local musicians, artists, service workers…the real folk who keep alive the City’s golden goose called the French Quarter. As to expanding “music” venues, who but the most prudish can object to music in New Orleans, where we are World-famous only for our music?

  • NolaDude

    Well said, Thomas!

  • nickelndime

    Well said, Meg. Now, WE know that nothing you have said would advocate the extreme measures that WE are advocating, but WE are going to offer it again. WE have a black limo waiting on Basin Street – the 400 block. What say WE load up Walt Leger, III, AND Nadine AND LaToya (Mitch is also invited) and drop them by the locked gate of the St. Rock Cemetery, say around midnite, open the door, and say, “RUN, BABY, RUN.”
    08/14/2015 4:43 PM DST USA

  • Dan Harris

    The first respondent and his echoer neglected all the central points of the opinion piece which the writer, Ms. Lousteau, expressed strongly and clearly: the last minute unvetted inclusion of these proposals means that years of citizen input was ignored for the narrow benefit of a lobby; that the French Quarter is not the only neighborhood that will be imperiled by this; that unless the citizenry in other neighborhoods become aware they too will be prey to a wide-spread proliferation of ersatz liquor outlets, live entertainment anytime anyplace, and bars that are willy-nilly proximate to playground and school. Ms. Lousteau exhorted readers to contact their council members so that residents’ stated wishes are not dismissed. If the first two respondents wish to infer something maybe they can sense the author’s fatigue at wasting years of good faith on a process now hijacked, instead of making ad hominem attacks.

  • nickelndime

    Well said, Dan Harris. Yeah, WE got all that, but you organized it so well. WE need a lot of black limos lined up on Basin Street out back – or WE could use the closed Winn-Dixie parking lot.

    WE are represented by a rotten City Council member, and WE don’t like LaToya either. And from all the B$ WE see going on in this city, WE think that Mitch and the City Council and a bunch of local government officials don’t really want resident-taxpayer input. It is a facade.
    08/14/2015 8:15 PM DST USA

  • DanishPastry

    The real indication that something smells rotten in this package of last-minute amendments is that when Cm. Ramsey was asked by other Councilmembers to explain some of her amendments (because they had just been submitted and no one else had had a chance to go over them), she could not. The two lobbyists for (1) the hotel and restaurant industry and (2) property developers stepped up to the mic to explain the amendments. I have seen this reported NOWHERE in articles covering the CZO vote, but I was sitting right behind the mic. I’m the one with mouth agape in shock. Back to the Old New Orleans we go.

  • “[A] wide-spread proliferation of ersatz liquor outlets” Are you serious at all? Ms Lousteau’s exposition is articulate and sounds reasonable. She is wrong, but it sounds reasonable. This comment is closer to spite and venom. Not all residents agree with the vestigial, puritanical prairie laws. Let the city be a city, let New Orleans be New Orleans. CM Nadine Ramsey is on the right path, getting rid of leftover junk from times when looking prim and proper seemed seemed so important. There is no space to develop it here, but until recently, the French Quarter was not an enclave of assertive respectability, as it is now, and these anti-beverage, anti-music laws have a racist element in them as hard and cold as in those statues the Mayor and so many want to move.

    Ms Meg calls VCPORA a neighborhood association. That is not accurate. It is a politically active organization of a relatively narrow tranche of current residents. A real neighborhood association would represent all aspects of the FQ, including businesses, workers, and the diversity you can see active there every day. Ms Lousteau advocates for the perceived prerogatives of the property owner members of her organization, and collaterally, sympathizers in other areas – not the real neighborhood.

    I support CM Ramsey’s amendments. So should you.

  • nickelndime

    “Let the city be a city, let New Orleans be New Orleans.” WOW! Holy Moly. IOW, let the corruption continue on as it has done. This is one of the worst lines of reasoning and complacency that WE have read today – but it’s still early.
    08/15/2015 2:56 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Nadine Ramsey couldn’t explain the last-minute amendments because she hadn’t read them. That’s why (1) and (2) were there. Gawd knows they knew Nadine couldn’t explain them.
    Thank you, “DanishPastry.”
    Just asking – but, had Nadine actually had time to read the amendments, would she have been able to explain them?


    Nadine, like LaToya, is not the “sharpest tool in the shed,” but the both of them know how to ignite the fire. They can’t start a fire – that would take initiative.

    08/15/2015 3:25 AM DST USA

  • Gi O Neworleans

    So mistaken, Mr. Balzac. What’s eating up reasonably-priced rental housing is AirBnb. Right on Meg! Residents who work during the day should be allowed to sleep at night, otherwise what kind of mood are we in to welcome visitors? Or even to even enjoy the music made so famous in a city of NEIGHBORHOODS. The Council does us no favors to make enforcement of Quality of Life issues impossible.

  • TriangleTess

    Ramsey’s amendments are NOT just for her district; they would apply city wide. How arrogant! That means she (or rather, her “influencers”, 1) and 2) as mentioned in Danish’s post) are going to dictate what goes on in Garden District, Uptown, etc. according to her “everything is an entertainment district” philosophy.

    At least Susan Guidry has tried to implement some common sense restrictions to protect her constituents’ quality of life, for example on Magazine street (which is clearly thriving already); but she’ll be trumped by these Amendments if they pass.

    Look at your neighborhood. Identify all of the commercial spaces. Picture losing even more essential services and conveniences in each location, replaced by much more profitable restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, liquor stores. Keep in mind, these establishments will be able to stay open until 2am on the weekends with their doors and windows open.

    Now draw a 200 foot radius around each location and imagine how many residents, churches, playgrounds, schools will be affected. Now imagine trying to get the city to do something about any of these if/when they morph into a nuisance business. Enforcement? Ha! Imagine N. Ramsey hissing at you “it’s an entertainment district” like she did at the CZO vote meeting about her last-minute zoning change for upper Decatur street in the Quarter which is surfeit with condominiums and apartments. One of the other council members likened it to “kicking a puppy.”

    How on earth did this woman, Nadine Ramsey, come to represent these culturally rich neighborhoods (French Quarter, Marigny, Bywater, Algiers)??? She is nothing but a shill for the liquor lobby. She doesn’t give a s—t about real citizens.

    Yes, the sky is falling. We need to get informed, people. And tell your council members, including the two at-large members who also represent your district, even if your own council person is selling you out, that you DO NOT want these amendments passed.

  • No ad hominem attack intended; I’m also against the way it just got plopped onto the agenda, but support the idea generally. The proposal is mostly aimed at the tourist districts, which are “caveat emptor” neighborhoods and have a voice, but no rights as to changing our art, music & cuisine culture; sorry if the realtor told you otherwise.

  • With due respect, Ms Triangle, you are wrong. CM Ramsey proposes the amendments, she does not pass them herself. Passage requires a majority vote of Council. When Ms Guidry proposes a measure that favors residents over the mixed use recommended by the Master Plan, the process is the same: she needs a majority to pass.

    Schools, playgrounds and churches are not active in the same time slots as bars, dinner restaurants and music venues, these are antiquated laws, originally composed with a racist bias. In any case, why should churches be privileged? It is constitutionally questionable.

    Gentrification zoning, residents’ prerogative and the imported suburban mentality have gone too far. There used to be much more live music in New Orleans than now. The notion that Ms Ramsey’s amendments are breaking traditional barriers is false. They are taking a step toward restoring the character of the city.

  • nickelndime

    Nadine is a shame to the Academy of the Holy Angels (AHA) on Saint Claude Avenue (from whence she gradiated), as did Jackie Brechtel Clarkson, former CM (whatever that is supposed to mean). This is what happens when you (“collectively” speaking – pass the collection basket) segregate the sexes in parochial education. The females begin to believe that they has received a comparable (SEPARATE BUT EQUAL TO DA MALES) education.
    The “Academy” went wrong when it stopped “boarding” da South American applicants – or was it da other way around?
    Anyway, what the hell is Nadine doing?! Mutha Theresa shuda hit da girl on da head harder wit da ruler. But no!
    “Spare da rod; Spurl da child.”
    So, what are we left with?
    A spoiled CM.
    08/16/2015 1:41 AM DST USA

  • 9thWdRulz

    I love these self-appointed guardians of New Orleans’ culture bearers like Mr.s Balzac and Feilich, neither of whom contribute to our art and music scenes any more than to belch hipper-than-thou screeds in online forums or on their woebegotten and disregarded blogs. Ms. Lousteau represents an organization whose members inform and support her policy positions. These guys represent no one but themselves and, therefore, have to claim that they speak for all of New Orleans’ artists, musicians and service workers.
    Mr. Balzac’s blog was last updated in March with a photo of the trees being cut in St. Anthony’s garden which happened years ago. Perhaps Mr. Balzac has been spending his time at his Florida shack (Florida would explain the ad for Disney on his website). Perhaps I’m not being fair about Mr. Balzac’s readership: he has 9 Twitter followers. Judging from the number of comments that Mr. Freilich gets on his blog, he should be envious of Mr. Balzac’s Twitter following. At the top of Mr. Freilich’s blog is a photo of a Mardi Gras Indian (I’m sure that you paid him to use that photo, right?) – one of the culture bearers that he presumes to represent. I can’t imagine any artists or musicians wasting their time reading his verbose, stream of conscience diatribes defending the developers pricing them out of their neighborhoods or shilling for the liquor lobby.
    I can only imagine these guys sitting in their underwear and indignantly typing their little hearts out, sort of like Ignatius Reilly, but without the wit, insight or even enough gumption to sell Lucky Dogs. OK, OK, that’s not fair either. I’m sure they occasionally make it out to a club where they dodge cover charges and cage drinks by telling the staff, “Have you seen my blog, without me you guys would be out of business.” But in addition to presuming to represent New Orleans’ culture bearers, they are also self-appointed arbiters of race relations and keepers of the true history of New Orleans. Never mind that Storyville was a zoned entertainment district established to maintain the conservative character of the rest of the city, we should take Mr. Freilich’s word that New Orleans has always been one big free for all.

  • nickelndime

    Love it – Love it – Love it!!! Everybody wants to be Chief. We is running out of Indians.
    08/16/2015 4:39 PM DST USA

  • I’ve lived in and reared two kids in the ‘Quarter, have documented local artists and musicians since the ’70’s, reported news for the local newspaper; I update my “blogs” regularly (Click the “News Stories” link next time you visit, and a number of other things that give me the right to help guard against riff-raff whiners like you, sir. I’m not doing this for “readership” so, please, stop reading my opinions, you’re not invited.

  • 9thWdRulz
  • Yes, I saw that, thanks. I had commented on an earlier one, that lawyer who wrote the letter to the Advocate .com My point is that Ms. Ramsey is right to place the issue on the agenda for discussion. Although the public discussion at this forum have covered most bases, I suppose (:

    I doubt we can settle-out the firemen, fix potholes, etc., by paring down to one mayor, consolidating departments, more CDC court filing fees, etc. Fasting is good for the human body, now and then; why not put local Government on a diet, let them eat kickbacks…

    Do you suggest sin taxes on existing bars, restaurants & clubs? Rather than expanding the number of clubs and collecting taxes that way? What about ending homestead exemptions? Is that an option?

  • nickelndime

    Well, it looks like your neighborhood, Meg, isn’t the only one that gets shafted here. Marigny was shafted today (or yesterday, depending on your Time Zone), and without Vaseline, WE might add.

    Don’t you just love it when a CDC judge (like Kern Reese) sympathizes with you and then rules against you? Surprised? You shouldn’t be!

    And it is such comments as this (which are basically without teeth) that had “nickelndime” thrown off/timed out of because WE had some choice words about the recently deceased CDC Judge Yada T. Magee. WE know you are looking up, Yada, but it ain’t gonna do you no good now, Babe!

    Now, Marigny – RECOUP! It’s still early.
    08/28/2015 12:37 AM DST USA