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Master Plan With the Force of Law:
Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Master Plan?

A Master Plan is a comprehensive, long-range plan to direct the future growth and development of the city. It directs development in areas such as land use, transportation, housing, community facilities and infrastructure, and historic preservation. A Master Plan is implemented through zoning ordinances, which regulate the use, location, height, density, and area restrictions of land in a city.

Why does New Orleans need a Master Plan?

• The current zoning ordinance is often amended with little or no citizen input to favor a privileged few. Residents, business people, and developers alike in the past have felt the need to “kiss the ring” of political leaders to get favorable decisions.

• The current zoning code has been amended to the point where we now have more than 100 pages of conditional uses.

• One coherent plan will give us zoning that is fairer, transparent and predictable. 

• A Master Plan will ensure that New Orleans’ distinctive urban character is maintained and its historic neighborhoods protected.

• A Master Plan will encourage growth and development by the stability and predictability of land use regulations.

Why do we need a Master Plan “With the Force of Law”?

• The plan must be supported by citizen referendum so that the plan will become a real, legal force directing development, growth, and preservation in our city – more than just a document gathering dust on a shelf.

• The plan will legally hold public officials and private citizens accountable. They must follow the plan, which represents the collective interests of New Orleans residents.

• Once the City Council adopts the Master Plan, no public project or facility and no public utility can be authorized or significantly altered unless it’s consistent with the Master Plan. All land development regulations and amendments, including amendments to the zoning ordinance and the zoning map, as well as all other land use actions, including preliminary or final approval of a subdivision plan, site plan, approval of a planned unit development, or similar site specific development plan, approval of conditional use, granting of a variance, or a decision by local government to construct a capital improvement, must be consistent with the Master Plan adopted by the City Council.

• New Orleans’ capital improvement plan and the capital budget must be consistent with the Master Plan.

Why didn’t New Orleans draft a plan and then vote to give it the Force of Law?

On November 4, New Orleanians did not vote on a Master Plan. Instead, we voted to demand that our City Planning Commission draft a Master Plan, legally involve us in the process, and amend the zoning code to make our vision for New Orleans, our Master Plan, real and meaningful.  Across the United States, there is no city in which citizens “vote” on a Master Plan. Planning is the purview of the City Planning Commission and, in many cases, the City Council. In New Orleans, we voted to demand that city officials legally enshrive citizen participation in the planning process by holding city-wide and district planning forums.

How will the Master Plan be created?

The actual Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance will be developed over the coming year throughout many community meetings. The plan will then be reviewed by the City Planning Commission and ultimately approved by the City Council. 

According to the Charter Amendment, in preparing the Master Plan, the Planning Commission is required to hold at least one public meeting in each planning district in New Orleans, or other designated neighborhood planning unit, to solicit the opinions of citizens that live or work in that district or planning unit. The Planning Commission has already scheduled two rounds of district meetings. The Planning Commission will also hold at least one public hearing to solicit the opinions of citizens from throughout the community. In addition, it must take affirmative steps to involve neighborhoods in master planning activities and comply with the requirements of any neighborhood participation program that the City adopts by ordinance.

When the Planning Commission completes its public meetings and hearing(s) and completes the Master Plan itself, it must adopt the plan by resolution, and forward the Master Plan to the City Council, which must adopt the plan by ordinance. Within ninety days of its receipt, the Council must adopt the Master Plan, reject it, or propose modification. If it rejects the plan, or proposes any modification, the Council must refer the plan back to the Commission for public hearing and comment.  The City Planning Commission shall consider and provide a recommendation to the City Council on the rejection or modification within sixty days of receipt from the City Council. 

Can the plan ever be changed?

Yes, through a careful review process. The Charter Amendment mandates a review at least once every five years so that the plan can evolve with the city’s needs over time. The plan can also be reviewed and adjusted once every calendar year or at any time in response to a natural or other declared disaster. The plan and related zoning ordinance cannot be changed at will based on single requests from individual property owners without going through a review process.