By Claire Byun
Proponents of New Orleans’ public parks are pressing for more public oversight for city parks, especially given proposed revisions to the Master Plan.
The New Orleans City Planning Commissions unanimously approved several modifications to the Master Plan Future Land Use Maps (FLUM) regarding citywide parks at their meeting Tuesday. Several people spoke against the proposed amendments – submitted by City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell – which generally relate to the preservation of passive space over intensive or commercially-oriented uses in parks.
City staff are required to review the 20-year Master Plan at least once every five years to determine if anything needs amending or comprehensive revision.
The amendments revise the name and details of one existing category in the FLUM: “Natural Areas” will become “Natural Areas, Open Space, and Recreational Areas.”
The second change, which was denied by the commission, requested the creation of two new categories: “Open Space,” which would generally be for passive activities; and “Recreational Space,” which would be for more active recreation and sports.
Keith Hardie, who spoke against the proposed changes, said the City Planning Commission already doesn’t have enough oversight on park boards and their decisions, and these amendments will lessen that control.
The city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) already classifies “intense” park uses, requiring plans and public review, staff said. Hardie, however, argues that the CZO doesn’t provide enough oversight since certain commercial uses – such as restaurants or golf courses – are already permitted uses.
“The park boards can just vote these in without this body [CPC] having any say so at all,” he said.
Hardie recommended the CPC reword sections of the FLUM to allow for more oversight, but CPC Chair Robert Steeg said the exact language and rules of the new designations will be discussed at the commission’s Feb. 7 hearing. Tuesday afternoon’s meeting was solely to vote on whether the CPC should create the two new designations and modify the “Natural Areas” category.
Under the modified “Natural Areas” category,the goal was changed to read as such:
“Increase, retain and preserve coastal land, natural areas, woodlands, ecologically sensitive habitats, and wetlands resources by conserving, improving, and/or restoring these areas for the purposes of aesthetic value, biodiversity, natural disaster resilience, natural resource and wildlife conservation, and nature-oriented recreation.”
As for the allowed uses of natural areas, ecological management, green infrastructure (non-structural flood protection and stormwater management), and passive nature-based recreation that does not have adverse impacts on sensitive ecological and natural areas that are the conservation/preservation aim is included.
No structures except those necessary to support conservation aims or low-impact amenities consistent with permitted passive recreational activities is allowed, according to the new designation.
Scott Howard, with the advocacy group NOLA Parks for All, urged the commission to give open spaces “special treatment.” Howard argued for more official oversight of the parks and beefed-up language, including goals to retain and preserve the free land.
“We are not private owners of the public space,” Howard told the board.
Several opponents used developments in Audubon Park and City Park as examples for more community – and citywide – oversight of public land. Christopher Lane, representing the City Park for Every Coalition, used recent public meetings regarding development of unused City Park land.
Park officials held two public meetings to hear input and suggestions for about 250 acres of unused land. The first meeting gave the public a chance to pitch their ideas for how to use the land, which led the park staff to draw up three “schemes.” At the second meeting, people were asked to choose among the schemes and to list the best and worst things about them.
Though most people at the first meeting said they were against a restaurant on the land, one of the three designs presented at the second meeting featured a restaurant.
“New Orleans citizens have a right to have some sort of oversight over our lands, because as of now the folks that oversee these lands are not elected,” Lane said.
Lane suggested City Council or the Mayor’s Office create an elected body to oversee all parks so there’s some sort of public oversight.
The FLUM amendment must now be approved by the City Council before becoming official.