Judge Orders City to Produce Records Requested by Neighborhood Organizations Regarding Section 8.1, CZO
Judge Tiffany Chase has ordered the City Attorney’s Office to produce a “knowledgeable individual” to respond to and perform a records request by VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens Inc., two long-standing organizations dedicated to preserving the historical integrity of the French Quarter, the city’s first neighborhood.
The records request was made after the City of New Orleans’ City Attorney, Law Department and the City Planning Commission refused to produce public records relevant to Section 8.1 of the City Zoning Code.
At hearings before the City Council, the CPC’s Director referenced recent legal opinions from the City’s Attorney’s Office that prompted the removal of Section 8.1 from the CZO, even though that element has given VCC the power to review land use in the Quarter since the 1950s.
The French Quarter groups asked to see documents related to this advice from the City Attorney to the City Planning Commission regarding Section 8.1.
VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens Inc. frequently cite Section 8.1 of the City Zoning Code because it gives the Vieux Carre Commission the authority to add a vital layer of review to proposed new uses in the city’s oldest neighborhood.
Ironically, the VCC is set to meet Wednesday, Jan. 7 on matters which involve Section 8.1 as applied to the Habana Café proposal, a controversial commercial development at the corner of Esplanade and N. Rampart which seeks a change of use for the property and would thus require Section 8.1 to be addressed by the VCC.
"The authority given by Section 8.1 to the VCC obligates this agency to protect the tout ensemble of the fragile Quarter neighborhood, and aids residents who have been pushing back against the area’s encroaching commercialism which has eroded the residential element of the French Quarter,” said VCPORA Director Meg Lousteau.
Ms. Lousteau said residents have been meeting with Council leaders to return Section 8.1 to the City Zoning Ordinance, still before the Council for amendments and final vote.
“Returning Section 8.1 as a key protection to the CZO is critical,” said Ms. Lousteau. “We find it odd that the CPC hides behind the City Attorney in ignoring this key provision, especially in light of several land use challenges to historic, residential areas,” said FQC Director Carol Gniady.
“But when asked to provide these legal opinions or supportive communications, the city law department claims they can’t index their documents by topic.”
The Judge agreed that this claim was ludicrous.
Attorney Tony Marino, a Quarter resident and long time advocate for both organizations said, “I find it odd that the City Attorney’s Offices says they can’t search their own records. Really? In 2014? The issue here is that these city agencies are using a City Attorney’s opinion to make public policy decisions. It would seem such opinions would be documented and can be produced.”