Outdoor entertainment to be legalized in New Orleans;  The Municipal Council is unanimous with the motion |  Local Politics

Outdoor entertainment to be legalized in New Orleans; The Municipal Council is unanimous with the motion | Local Politics

The New Orleans City Council moved Thursday to legalize outdoor entertainment, indefinitely extending a pandemic-era business model that kept entertainment venues and musicians afloat on an emergency basis during COVID-19 lockdowns, but that has in fierce opposition after those restrictions were eased.

The unanimous vote followed negotiations to resolve what appeared to be irreconcilable differences between live music advocates and neighborhood groups along the Mississippi River. The motion will form the basis of a proposed regulation that will be considered for a vote at a future meeting.

Helena Moreno

New Orleans City Council Member Helena Moreno.

“We’ve been working for quite some time to figure out how to make this permanent,” said council member Helena Moreno, adding that the new measures will provide “predictability, not just for venues and musicians, but for the people who live around those areas.”

Opponents insisted at a June public meeting that the City must replace its notoriously unenforceable sound ordinance before outdoor entertainment, which includes music, comedy, theater and other types of performances, can be considered. They said they didn’t trust Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration to enforce existing rules, let alone new ones.

Ethan Ellestad

Ethan Ellestad, executive director of the New Orleans Music and Culture Coalition.

Supporters hoped to avoid a broad debate over the health ordinance, which in past years has been the center of bitter and protracted political arguments over failed efforts to reform it. Cementing legal status for outdoor scenes was urgent, they said, because Cantrell’s pandemic emergency order allowing them could disappear at any time.

That an agreement was finally reached showed “that these issues are solvable,” said Ethan Ellestad, executive director of the New Orleans Music and Culture Coalition.

“These are not really entrenched issues,” he said.

Faith renewed

Although a new sound ordinance does not appear to be on the horizon, neighborhood leaders have been affected by a number of developments over the past two months. Among them is the Cantrell administration’s commitment to hire new district inspectors to work at night, though the details of those plans are still being worked out.

Allen Johnson

Allen Johnson, president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, speaks during the Audubon Institute’s public meeting with French Quarter and Marigny residents about plans to turn the Esplanade and Governor Nicholls Street piers into a park at the Omni Royal Orleans in New Orleans in August. 28, 2018.

Allen Johnson, president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, said he had “confidence in the council and also confidence in the administration,” after recent meetings with Moreno’s chief of staff, Andrew Tuozzolo, and zoning chief Ashley Becnel, as and Staff of District C Council Member Freddie King III.

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“It’s pretty convincing that they’ve all learned from the short-term rental mistake,” said Johnson, one of the most vocal critics of the administration’s failure to enforce short-term rental laws and a leading opponent of outdoor recreation measures. .

Reaching the agreement

The new measures will replace temporary permits the Cantrell administration issued under the mayor’s COVID-19 emergency orders, but the issue first surfaced shortly before the pandemic hit. Live music advocates realized in late 2019 that city officials were interpreting a quirk in the zoning code to ban outdoor stages, setting off a frantic push to change the code.

Then came the COVID-19 lockdowns, which threatened to suffocate New Orleans’ famous music scene. Cantrell’s emergency permits offered little relief to venue operators and performers, but advocates continued to push for permanent regulations to preserve what had become an expanding business model for some operators.

Planning Commission staff came up with a number of proposals, but commissioners had trouble understanding the finer details of the new rule mix and failed to muster enough votes to take a position on June 3.

Limited hours

In meetings over the next two months, City Council staff added simple “conditional use” rules tailored to each site and approved individually by the City Council. Sites operating more than 600 feet from residential districts — which are rare — would not need to undergo the conditional use process.

Restrictions were also added on the frequency and hours that venues can host outdoor stages. In general, places will be limited to three outdoor performances per seven-day period, and performances on Sundays through Thursdays must end by 9:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays by 10:00 p.m. These rules can be made more restrictive or relaxed through the conditional use process. .

The new zoning laws are intended for bars, restaurants and other places of entertainment; they do not affect second line parades, buskers or performances on private property.

Demand for the new permits is difficult to determine, but Ellestad estimated that a couple of dozen site operators may be interested. The approved rules for each country should be accessible in an online control panel.

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this article said the council legalized outdoor recreation on Thursday.

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