How City Hall is killing the great neighborhoods of New Orleans

H

The Landrieu Administration says it wants to celebrate the city’s 300th birthday in 2018. Funny. Because in just nine days, the Administration demonstrated how fast it could ignore the very people who live and work here to sustain one of the world’s truly great cities. How, you may ask. The main reason is that the mayor has not cleaned out the historically corrupt Safety and Permits Department and appointed someone from outside to right a sinking ship.

The recent, offensive action concerned a well-known nightspot on Royal Street called the Golden Lantern a gay bar that offers the occasional drag show. This bar is located in a residential-zoned section of the French Quarter, where live entertainment permits have not been allowed for 50 years. To allow live entertainment at such a bar, one must seek and gain recognition from City Hall as a “legal non conforming use.” That has not been difficult lately as the department is passing out these illegal permits at an alarming and unprecedented rate all over the city.

The rules for this are very narrow. First, the Golden Lantern would have to prove it has offered live entertainment for four hours a day, five days a week, for a minimum of 10 years after notice to the city. The reality in this case is that the Golden Lantern applied for a permit to offer live music back in 2004 — and they were turned down—for all the right reasons, by the city’s Office of Safety and Permits.
But in July of this year, the Golden Lantern came back with a new application with only self supporting affidavits, now seeking permission for “drag shows” and “trivia nights” but with no specific mention of live music. The club offered absolutely no evidence of an established non-conforming use over the last 10 years, because it didn’t have any. Nonetheless, this time city officials approved the request — in just nine days and without giving residents notice or an opportunity to be heard, which is a fundamental right under the Constitution.

And so amplified live music goes on at the Golden Lantern…to the ire of long term local residents. Golden Lantern is now blasting the few remaining residents out.

This may sound like a familiar tale.

The residents of the Faubourg Marigny went to court to prevent a bar called Mimi’s in the Marigny from continuing to offer live music…because it violated residential zoning code and also could not meet the 10-year “non-conforming” use rule. The residents won…until the Department of Safety and Permits decided to secretly issue a mayoralty permit to Mimi’s, basically rewarding it for bad behavior and allowing live music to return, in violation of the city’s own laws. Again, with no notice or an opportunity to be heard by the Landrieu administration despite several written requests by me.

The Baku festival in January…which created a citywide brouhaha over noise…was allowed to operate against city code by an illegal mayoralty permit.

This list could go on and on. Ask residents about Warehouse Grill. Ask Uptown residents about Slinky’s. Ask Esplanade Ridge about Benachi House.

In the meantime, the city holds public hearings for comment on its City Zoning Ordinance, which is laughable, since it is clear this Administration intends not to enforce it anyway just like it refuses to enforce the noise and nuisance laws.

A complex study on the city’s existing noise ordinance, and ways to improve it, goes unaddressed…despite 19 neighborhood organizations highlighting for the City Council seven simple steps in the report where legislative action could improve residential quality of life.

Residents of the French Quarter and the Marigny are going to fight these egregious decisions at the zoning board, in the courtroom, and any other way that they can — and will ultimately win. But why has it gotten to this?

New Orleans is still fighting a comeback battle more than eight years after Katrina. The lack of enforcement can be traced back to Landrieu’s predecessor, the disgraced Ray Nagin, who is currently defending himself against federal charges of wire fraud, bribery and money laundering.

Needless to say, there were big hopes for change and renewal when Landrieu, the brother of my friend U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, took office in May 2010.

He said he was going to make the mayor’s office more transparent, and create a level playing field and put neighborhoods first.

Instead, we’ve seen a new boss just like the old boss in City Hall — causing corruption of the civic soul by refusing to protect citizens in their homes.

City enforcement has been reduced; permits are doled out without public notice; and hotel visitors are taxed without notice for private organizations who do not have to account for their expenditures.

The Landrieu Administration moved into City Hall the Vieux Carre Commission, the very organization established to protect and preserve the historic integrity of the Quarter, its architectural character and zoning laws. The VCC now has no inspectors, two less that during Nagin.

All these actions are in service of the broader goal of making New Orleans a beer-soaked, R-rated adult Disneyland for out-of-towners and their wallets, residents be damned.

That same corruption of the civic soul was present when a developer won City Council approval in 2011 to ignore Vieux Carre standards and redevelop the Woolworth Building — abutting the French Quarter on Canal Street — at roughly double the previously permissible height, in a deal brokered by the district’s councilwoman, Kristin Gisleson Palmer who had no idea of the baggage the developer carried with him. Since then, the developer has been convicted of stealing government money from Katrina reconstruction funds — a new low for the city.

When residents sued the property owner to get rid of unsightly and illegal billboards on the proposed site of the Habana Outpost nightclub on Esplanade Avenue, the VCC struck a deal with the developer and the city, instead of sitting on the sidelines as is usually the case, intervened in the lawsuit without a peep by the council. — on the side of the New York developer and not the beleaguered local residents. The city sued the neighbors!! Looks like the fix is in on that illegal project as well.

Must everything be done in the name of the mighty dollar?

People come to New Orleans because our historic neighborhoods are in fact neighborhoods, where people live and work and play — so that tourists get to play with the locals and really taste our culture. That is what we are losing.

It’s time to put down the butcher’s knife and give us the transparency we were promised. It’s time to clean out that Safety and Permits snake pit and bring in an outsider administrator after a national search. Not the same old corrupt cronies we have now. It’s time to update the noise ordinance and enforce funding for quality of life in our neighborhoods. We will see if the mayor’s proposed budget contains funds for noise and quality of life enforcement. I am not holding my breath.

To read the petition to the Zoning Board of Adjustments over the Golden Lantern (PDF file), check out: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Brief-VCPORA-BZA-Docket-195-131.pdf

For coverage last month of the mayorality permit for live entertainment at Mimi’s, please read: http://www.nola.com/music/index.ssf/2013/09/mimis_in_the_marigny_secures_p.html

To read more about City Council’s approval of the massive Woolworth Building project, check out: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/09/new_orleans_city_council_appro_4.html

To learn more about city siding with a developer and against residents on billboards, please read: http://theadvocate.com/news/6957223-123/vieux-carre-board-to-take

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

 

Add comment

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This