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News from City Noise Ordinance/CZO Public Input Hearing on 11/20/2013

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In what may be the final weeks of the citizens of New Orleans’ chance to offer input into the upcoming revision of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance--which governs zoning throughout metro New Orleans--issues of when, where and who can offer live music continue to stir controversy. 
 
At a meeting this past Wednesday at Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy, the latest in a series between city officials and concerned New Orleanians, details of how the revised ordinance will effect venues that have live entertainment--and the entertainers that provide it—proved to be as contentious as ever. The key difference this time was the fact that the period for public input on the new CZO is set to expire on November 30th. 
 
City Planning commission employees Jeff Moen and Paul Cramer were on hand to explain the changes to the city’s zoning and field questions from attendees. The crux of the planners’ presentation centered on the fact that the current zoning ordinance has not been updated since 1950 and is extremely vague in many areas. According to their explanation, the new ordinance does a better job of taking into account the many nuances and complexities of urban zoning in New Orleans. One of the ways the city hopes to do this is by creating “cultural overlays” throughout the city which will allow for restaurants and bars to have live music without having to go through the currently extensive, and often defensive, process of getting a onditional use permit or a “spot zone.” At the moment, the city has identified three such zones: Frenchmen street, Freret street, and St Claude Ave. Some citizens in attendance argued that, while this was a step in the right direction, it didn’t go far enough, and failed to include measures to allow for the tradition of neighborhood bars and restaurants which have a long tradition of offering live entertainment outside of commercially dense areas. 
 
One of the more esoteric topics brought up during the course of the meeting was how to engage musicians and venue owners in the process. While some in attendance claimed that it was City Hall’s burden to reach out to these groups, others pointed out that the meetings have been ongoing with regularity and sufficient notice for at least a year and a half, and this—coupled with the responsibility we all have as citizens—shifted the burden from the city to its residents who have a vested interest in the new ordinance. 
 
In light of the recent challenges faced by venues both well-established, (Mimi’s, Golden Lantern, Circle Bar), and newer to the local music scene, (Siberia, St Roch Tavern), this topic is one that’s not likely to go away any time soon, regardless of what the new CZO winds up consisting of. The city planning commission representatives urged, (and I concur), all in attendance to submit their opinions and concerns via email at cpcinfo@nola.gov and suggest to their friends and associates to do the same. You can find copies of both the current ordinance and the proposed new version at http://www.nola.gov/city-planning/comprehensive-zoning-ordinance/
 
I urge all New Orleanians who enjoy, participate in, and/or support themselves on our culture, (that covers just about everyone in the city in some way methinks), to visit the site, take a look at their neighborhood’s zoning and do their part as members of our unique and wonderful city to ensure we preserve the greatness of our culture.
 
Andrew Grafe

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