Owen Courreges: The latest weapon in the war on live music

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Owen Courreges

Why does Mayor Landrieu hate live music?  And why did Stacy Head give him the “alley oop” do shut down virtually any bar he wants?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but when two events feed into each other so perfectly that a connection is nearly impossible to ignore, you have to acknowledge your suspicions even if you’d prefer not to speculate and stick with verified facts.  There is something rotten at City Hall, and I just want to know why.

As everyone is probably aware, the city has engaged in a sudden, unprecedented crackdown on live music venues lacking mayoralty permits for live music.  The mayor has to take the full measure of blame for the denial of permits, which are not only issued by the executive branch, but actually named for the mayor’s office itself and penalties can be suspended on his word alone.

The first signs of the crackdown began when live music at Siberia was cancelled due to some arcane zoning dispute. Apparently all the nearby live entertainment venues within a stone’s throw of Siberia on St. Claude Avenue — Kajun’s, Hi-ho, All-Ways, etc. — are zoned for live entertainment but Siberia is not.  Other major venues were assaulted at the same time, usually with the same beef — they had been hosting live music for years and the city just now decided to shut it down.

More recently, the city moved on to the Circle Bar.  The Circle Bar has been hosting live music for around 13 years, save for a recent hiatus for renovations.  However, they allowed their live music permit to lapse and when they reapplied, they were denied.  Just this past weekend, they were soliciting affidavits from artists that have been performing at their venue, ostensibly to mount a legal challenge.

The real issue here is zoning.  Mayoralty permits are largely perfunctory except for zoning.  However, zoning can be all kinds of random and stupid, especially with respect to “live entertainment.”

First, here’s how the zoning code defines “live entertainment,” which is the sticky wicket when it comes to proper zoning:

Live Entertainment. A scheduled or planned performance or presentation during which both the performer(s) and audience are physically present at the time of occurrence and that is typically sponsored, promoted, advertised, or publicized in advance to attract patrons or guests. The performer(s), who may be amateur(s), participant(s) from the audience, patron(s) or guests, need not be compensated or remunerated. These uses include but are not limited to the following:

a. Theatrical productions, athletic contests, exhibitions, pageants, concerts, recitals, circuses, karaoke, bands, combos, and other live musical performances, audience participation contests, floorshows, literature readings, dancing, fashion shows, comedy or magic acts, mime and the playing of recorded music (disc, records, tapes, etc.) by an employee, guest or other individual, one of whose functions is the playing of recorded music and who is in verbal communication with the clientele of the establishment.

That, dear readers, was written to be all encompassing.  Look at how insane and totalitarian our city is. It is there in black and white. I mean, “literature readings?” Seriously? You need a specific zoning designation to allow a guest to openly read a book in your place of business?  What possible interest could the government have in that?

What’s worse, is that “live entertainment” (at least when alcohol is available) is a permitted use practically nowhere outside of the Central Business District (CBD) and French Quarter under the zoning code.  The exceptions are minor.  In Light and Heavy Industrial Districts, live entertainment is allowed (but only under certain conditions if a residential district is within 300 feet).  Section 10.13 of the zoning code allows live entertainment on a very limited basis in Arts and Culture Overlay District  (20% maximum in the district for venues, 4,000 square foot maximum, and sorry DJs and karaoke hosts, you’re not allowed in these).

Even in the CBD live entertainment is a red-headed stepchild. The chorus of that song is “we’re kinda ok with Jazz trios but we hate rock bands.” In CBD-1, one of the zoning districts specially made for the Central Business District, live entertainment is permitted, but only for bands of up to three people (sorry Beatles, the ‘Fab Four’ is one long-hair too many). In CBD-2, there is a smaller “subdistrict” where casinos are allowed live entertainment (let’s just call this the “Harrah’s subdistrict,” so we know what the score is).

In CBD-3, live entertainment up to three people (man, those Beatles never get a break) is allowed on Canal Street.  CBD-5 also allows live entertainment but only as an accessory use, and once again, only up to three band members (WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST THE BEATLES, YOU BASTARDS!).  The CBD districts go on in much the same vein, allowing live entertainment only as an accessory or conditional use, and even then showing abject contempt for bands with a rhythm guitarist (i.e., not Jazz trios).

The Quarter isn’t much better.  The Vieux Carre Enterainment District (VCE-1) is only really entertaining if you love acoustical music.  If you can hear anything more than one foot outside an exterior wall, it’s banned.  Oh, and “existing hotels” having more than 30 rooms may have live entertainment in the Quarter in a few zoning districts.  But that’s it for the Quarter.

Thus, it can be said with confidence that live music venues tend to operate under noncomforming use permits.  A noncomforming use is essentially a historical use — somebody who was operating before the zoning code was operative.  However, according to the city a nonconforming use lapses if the property isn’t used for that specific purpose for six months.

Historically, the state has held that “[t]he burden of proving termination of nonconforming use status by abandonment or discontinuance is on the party urging termination of the status.” Joubert v. City of New Orleans, 2009-0601 (La. App. 4 Cir. 01/13/10); 30 So. 3d 186 (quoting City of New Orleans v. Elms, 566 So. 2d 626, 634 (La. 1990)).

Accordingly, if the state wants to shut down a live music venue operating under a nonconforming use, it has a problem.  The Louisiana Supreme Court has said that the burden rests with the city to prove that the nonconforming use has lapsed.  Thus, the city has a heavy evidentiary burden if it challenges a nonconforming use.  This makes sense, because zoning laws are derogations of property rights and are to be construed narrowly as a matter of constitutional law.  Putting the burden on the property owner seems wrong under these circumstances.

However, Councilmember Stacy Head changed that this year.  And that change is what has enabled the crackdown on live music venues.  This is just too big a connection to ignore.

Just this January, Ms. Head, seconded by Councilmember Guidry, proposed an ordinance that would throw the burden for providing the termination on a nonconforming use from the city to the property owner, and not just by the default standard of a preponderance of the evidence, but by “clear and convincing evidence,” the highest standard outside of criminal law.

Glibly, for a property owner to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that they have a valid nonconforming use is virtually impossible.  You would have to prove a negative by virtually indisputable evidence — that you have consistently maintained the use without interruption for more than six months since the zoning ordinance was in effect, i.e. that you have not shut down during the previous several decades.

Before Stacy Head’s addition to the zoning code, it was pretty easy for a bar with live music operating under a nonconforming use to challenge the denial of a live music permit.  All they had to do is tell the city to “put up, or shut-up.”  Now, the system has shifted from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent.  The city can now target, almost arbitrarily, any bar or live music venue for zoning violations and laugh when they can’t meet the impossibly high evidentiary burden concocted by Stacy Head and now being exploited by Mayor Landrieu.

So what is the conspiracy here?  Well, I don’t know for the particulars.  I only know that the recent crackdown on live music venues and Stacy Head’s dramatic addition to the zoning code can’t be a coincidence.

I do have my suspicions, though, and I will express those.  My suspicion is, whether coordinated or not, that Head and Landrieu share a desire to make New Orleans a smaller, wealthier city by shutting down dive bars, so-called “nuisance bars” and everything in between to change the character of New Orleans into something more quiet, more bland, and more Yuppie. And I say this as a card-carrying Yuppie.

If the city has virtually unfettered control over the fates of nonconforming uses (which includes almost every corner business in the city) it can cherry-pick winners and losers.  I can tell you right now, high-end bars with touristy trios will be the winners.  Dive bars with rock and metal bands will be the losers.  Hipsters will be purged.

Landrieu and Head are sending a message to a segment of the population of New Orleans.  They want you gone.  You’re offensive to the tone.   Your tattoos and loud music annoy them.  Your anti-establishment attitude vexes them.  They want a fat jerk of a sheriff at the border to drive you out of town a la Sylvester Stallone in “First Blood.”

Are you going to ignore this, or will you take a stand?

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

70 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: The latest weapon in the war on live music

  1. Mr. Courreges, you are a dangerous man. A danger to those who want to destroy one of the main charms and attractions of our city: live music. When this effort of strip New Orleans of its heritage and status on the WORLD stage began I cannot say, only that when I returned to New Orleans after 30 years “abroad” (New York) in 1994 I was appalled at what had happened during those decades. Virtually ALL of the major businesses had fled for the boondocks, leaving ME with no place to shop or otherwise take up my old, vital, life as a grad student at Tulane in the 60s. As a photographer I took upon myself a project to photographs all of the tee-shirt shops in the Quarter. I ran out of film and patience. That Meyer the Hatter was still in the same spot filled me with joy and, somehow, a sense that not everything was lost. Also, the gradual emergence of new energy in the music world was also promising. Some of my old haunts still offered some respite for live music, although they had replaced jazz with “something else”. Snug Harbor became my cathedral for class. Frenchmen Street was still a no-man’s-land of boarded up buildings or misused spaces for junk and flotsam. I was thrilled when new and hip venues began to develop in the area. Tourists came from all over the world to our Jazz Fest and began to discover my new neighborhood. There was a crackling energy in these developments that lent a sense that something vital was happening to parts of New Orleans. Certain parts, that is.
    At the same time, and unbeknownst to me, was another development. Certain elements, often new to the city, were organizing to, not only limit, but to destroy that vitality and redesign New Orleans into a dull, quiet, and lifeless series of suburbs. Some of us often seek out our own “Walden Pond”, but usually that is a temporary retreat from the real world. Shelly’s “peace and tranquility” was not where I wanted to be by returning to New Orleans. My much older dream of being a singer seemed to be a possibility with every passing day, being encouraged by much older and experienced musicians who embraced me and my lofty ambitions. Music in this town is more of a “family” than even I had anticipated. My initial disappointment in my return was replaced with a sense of joy and homecoming, thanks almost entirely to music and musicians. These attacks on my “family” saddens me profoundly. I have to restrain my anger, since retaliation, like revenge, “is a dish best served cold”.
    At 77, my old legs and feet are unreliable, I have no car, and the energy level is not what it once was, but I want to join with others against this insidious intrusion into New Orleans’ traditions. What is most disturbing is finding out that many of these restrictions were written into “law” decades ago and are only recently dragged out to be enforced by the enemies of our culture. New Orleans is like NO OTHER place in the country. THAT is why people want to come here….by the thousands. That is why so many tourists say to me that they plan to MOVE here. They LOVE the very things that “the others” hate.
    So, Mr. Courreges and others like Jan Ramsey of OffBeat, you are dangerous to those “others”, but don’t be intimidated and never shut up about it. This old man would be right by your side….if only I could find a pair of shoes that fit.

  2. Unprecedented? Not so. Take a look back to only two weeks after he was elected. From Bourbon St. to Dream Palace to Krewe of Chewbacca, demolishing street culture “for our safety” has been on his agenda from day one. Zoning is the excuse. Freret St. market may be one of the casualties as this popular corridor has drawn the mayor’s attention and now requires artists to register to the city for a fee. The fee is not the point. Here’s what is: Who are you, little artist? Why have we not heard of you before? What else do you do? Why don’t we receive some of your (unsanctioned) income so we can declare you to be not a rule-follower? Thank you for calling attention to this silent culture killer. Many of us are watching this. How to stop the death of culture here?

  3. This city is innundated with illegal activities associated with bars. Live music is governed bt the zoning code. Law breakers should be punished. If they don’t like the zoning change it.

    • This city is inundated (this is the proper way to spell it by the way) with illegal activities that have nothing to do with bars as well.

    • Stuart,

      Zoning laws, like all laws, are subject to some discretion in enforcement (or non-enforcement), which is up to elected officials. In any event, full enforcement of the zoning code would cause a great many constitutional violations because so many parts of the zoning code are so overbroad and extreme.

    • I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Smith. This city is innundated alright: with snarky and punitive “regulations” and permits. Where is it written that citizens should be “regulated”? Do you mean regulated as in a “regulated militia”? Music is not a crime to be hunted down and locked away. Where are the advocates of “law and order” about illegal parking, street scammers (betcha I kin tell y’ where ya got dem shoes), and many other infractions ON THE BOOKS? Why do the graffiti scum get off scott free? Do we have a “graffiti-free” zone? If not, why not?
      You are right about one thing: if we (the musicians) don’t like the zoning, we should change it. The only problem is we don’t have friends in low places. As it has been pointed out by me and others, someone had to write those zoning regulations. Was it GOD? Was it YOU?

  4. Mr. Occam would tell us that we need not assume conspiracy when mere greed will suffice. You don’t want a problem with your nonconforming use permit? I’m sure appropriate donations to the Landrieu re-election campaign will greatly ease any issues you might have in that regard.

    • will_k,

      That would explain why it would seem like Head is enabling Landrieu, when in truth they’re hardly best buds. Landrieu could just be doing this to generate cash, while Head was intending to give a future mayor the power to shut down corner stores which she is on record as disliking. Regardless, the effect is the same.

  5. i agree! what exactly did Landrieu mean when he coined the term ‘cultural economy’? and why do they think people come here in the first place?

  6. Moses,

    I wish we were, at least with respect to zoning. Houston has no zoning. On the other hand, we are using zoning to destroy what makes us unique and desirable.

    • The problem isn’t the existence of zoning; the problem is, as you laid out, the narrow exemption process and arcane permitting associated with live music, particularly the part that puts the issuance of permits in the executive office by fiat.

      • al pelican,

        I agree to a point. If New Orleans had, say, twelve types of zoning districts, a free and open process for variances, and presumptions in favor of nonconforming uses, then zoning really wouldn’t be such a huge deal. However, the last time I counted New Orleans has fifty-something zoning categories, variances are considered verboten (especially in the current political climate), and the last word on nonconforming uses is that eventually they’re all supposed to be gone (i.e., no more neighborhood businesses, period — they all need to be in commercial zones).

        The problem is that New Orleans applied a suburban-style zoning scheme years ago and in typical New Orleans fashion, it has worked largely because the strict requirements are often ignored. Now some of those are slowly being enforced, and although a new zoning plan is on the table, it is mostly more of the same save for being more strict.

        The idea of having neighborhood businesses is essential to New Orleans, but the zoning code wants them gone. It pretty much always has. At least before businesses could ask the city to prove a nonconforming use had lapsed, but now not only do property owners have that burden, the burden is a virtually impossible one to meet!

  7. Lions, and Tigers, and Bars OH MY! Bars playing loud music are inundated with the most scary and dangerous illegal activities I’ve seen in my life. Let’s continue to focus on researching and debating their grandfathered in zoning status and ignore the shootings, homeless people defecating under the bridge, and illiterate children who will grow up to go to jail or fry our chicken.

    Let’s get rid of the bars enjoyed by tourists. Let’s stop taking the money from college kids’ parents that send them here for to study the arts and be a part of the music culture. Let’s scare away the influx of young professionals who want to join in a second line and stay here for the culture despite the crime. Let’s send away all the poor musicians just trying to get by without certain luxuries for the love of their passions.
    Without our music culture we have nothing but boring, rich people raping and gentrifucking my hometown and turning into every other boring city in Merica.

  8. This subject is more complicated than it looks. I would put my love of music up against anybody’s. But do I want to hear a booming electric bass at 2AM or at 7AM find my front porch turned into a bathroom?
    There is no doubt that “gentrification is in the air” and I think thats a good thing. I don’t think this town is at risk for dive bar extinction any time soon. I do think it is a legitimate issue and certainly there must be some city planning and zoning experts out there who have some keener insights on how to deal with it.

    • Owen,

      Gentrification is fine if it occurs naturally. On the other hand, if the government starts trying to force gentrification by shutting down existing businesses and pushing out the poor, that’s crass and wrong. Worse, if the government gives itself broad authority vis-a-vis nonconforming uses, that could affect more than just dive bars and leave all our property rights unprotected.

      • Owen C,
        You are lecturing the wrong person on the evils of gentrification. I grew up in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The place spiraled downward with the rest of Brooklyn and virtually everyone moved out. A generation or so later it recovered quite well (like N.O. it has great architecture.)
        The point here is neighborhoods rise and fall because of quality of life issues. I like dive bars (and my son’s band has played at the Circle) but they do have Q of L consequences.
        i agree with you about arbitrary enforcement and some of what you’re describing sounds (smells?) like garden variety corruption.

        • Owen J,

          Oh, I don’t speak of the evils of gentrification. I just don’t like government forcing it. The ethnic and cultural makeup of neighborhoods is supposed to change. It’s a natural thing; they shouldn’t remain static. They can go from rich to poor and back again. I understand that the government shouldn’t ignore quality of live issues, but what I’m seeing here has nothing to do with that. It’s more along the lines of pushing out the poor or at least using the pretext of licensing to get money out of small businesses.

    • Owen –
      I live one block from Siberia and have told Councilwoman Palmer in no uncertain terms that Siberia made my neighborhood safer. Guess what happened when more people started coming to shows on my side of St. Claude? It wasn’t as easy to deal drugs in front of my house. I am willing to park on the next block over for that safety.
      We are so lacking in infrastructure around here (e.g. affordable groceries (bless the co-op & MGZ, they’re trying so hard to fill a big hole), a dry cleaner, a florist, a shoe repair – all of the amenities that a lot of other areas of this city enjoy) that Siberia was a HUGE blow. I even opened a store on Burgundy so I could by a decent birthday card in my neighborhood (again big ups to Walgreens and Family Dollar for being there when I needed them).
      I do believe in zoning – but I don’t believe in random enforcement. Bring us infrastructure, bring us safety, but please do not take the things that have made our neighborhood better. It’s not easy to live here, but that’s not why we do it.

      • I am a full-time professional musician who lived a block from Siberia. Crime went up, not down, with that bar’s arrival. Vandalism, drunkenness, public urination (and defecation, if you must know), and aggressive begging became daily problems for people trying to live peacefully in that neighborhood. After the third time that I couldn’t get from my car to my house without being accosted by these “music lovers,” I started looking for somewhere else to live. After 17 “music lovers” had to be removed by the police from my stoop so that I could get out of my apartment to go to a gig, I bought a house in the suburbs. I try not to drive through the old neighborhood at night.

        It is entirely possible that this business is being singled out for closure by the city. This is good government in action, protecting residents and other tax-generating businesses from scofflaws.

  9. Under this terrible Mayor, crime has gone through the roof and the bars in the coming years will only book “Blueshammer.”

    Don’t blame me – I voted for James Perry.

  10. I am a newish bar owner in the Quarter, who legitimally tried to get (and was more than willing to pay for!) a live music permit and was told “you are not zoned for music”. I am one block from The House of Blues. I am neither a dive bar nor a tourist trap, simply an establishment attempting to provide a clean and upscale alternative with the option to offer live music on occasion It is lost on me as to why I should be denied a permit.

    • JD,

      Of course. Virtually nobody is zoned for music (or literary readings, for that matter). Having live music usually means either flouting the law or pushing hard to get a variance. There doesn’t have to be any logic to it.

  11. My name is Mark Weliky and I am a jazz guitarist in new Orleans. I play twice a week at bacchanal (who recently won a long fought battle with the city over a music permit) I also play once weekly at the victory bar in the cbd. We play for two hours once a week and we are the only live music at the club. The configuration of the group is an acoustic guitar and an electric. We play Brazilian music, soft sambas and bossa novas; background music. Likely wouldn’t be heard outside even with the doors open. Anyway, they were recently denied a music permit. The city isn’t just fighting loud rock bands. They are blindly destroying small businesses that are willing to take a chance and support musicians in this city by giving them a gig. Also bacchanal never had anything more than a jazz quartet(no loud rock bands here) and it they had to fight tooth and nail(while losing business for 8 months) to acquire a permit. The problem is city hall is looking at everything on paper and simply following the letter of the law to a t without looking at the situation case by case. We need more common sense leadership in this city!!!

    • I disagree, I don’t think it’s a matter of leadership. It seems to me that real estate values have become THE driving force in New Orleans and live music does not fit in that picture, excpet in an extremely narrow, heavily regulated, way. Notwithstanding Landrieu’s talk about ‘cultural economy’. I’m a musician myself and I really think that the ONLY way we’ll be able to fight this onslaught is if EVERYONE who has a stake in the local music industry, be they bands, clubs, lables, agents, etc stick together and approach the city as a united front. Otherwise they will keep doing this crap. It seems pretty obvious that the musician’s union isn’t gonna do anything to adress these issues.

  12. My name is Greg Beaman and I am a trumpeter in New Orleans. Before Circle Bar closed for renovations in January 2011, I performed there every Saturday evening with my jazz quartet. Before the city canceled live music at the bar, I performed every Sunday evening with a folksy rock quintet. I consider the city’s attack on live music an attack on me personally, my right to earn a living, and my very way of life. Thank you, Mr. Courreges, for writing this bold article.

    If the Louisiana Supreme Court has already made a ruling with regards to the burden of proof on zoning issues, wouldn’t it be simple to mount a successful challenge to Cm. Head’s new interpretation in the courts?

  13. Greg,

    Well, the Supreme Court just cited to a treatise to get a default rule, so I don’t believe it’s a matter of any kind of statutory or constitutional state law. Thus, the city might be able to change the burden at will.

    However, the recent amendment to the zoning code also provided that zoning laws create property rights and thus nonconforming uses are to be narrowly construed. That part is just blatantly unconstitutional; zoning laws have been repeatedly held to be derogations from property rights as a matter of state law. I also suspect that the courts may slap down the “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

    • First, I want to say thank you for your insightful analysis into the challenges facing authentic New Orleans cultures.

      Secondly, who would have to mount a legal challenge to Head’s amendment to the – as you put it – “blatantly unconstitutional” zoning code? Could club owners file a class-action suit, or would individual clubs that were denied permits have to challenge the narrow interpretation of code?

      Finally, do you know if any of Head’s rivals in District B – or any local pols, for that matter – have come out in opposition to the recent crackdown? I remember that there was an abortive recall petition against Head in 2008/2009. Do you have any insights into the recall process? Do you think that a high publicity recall campaign would be an effective means of applying political pressure? As a registered voter and resident of District B, is there anything else I can do?

      I know that I’ve asked a lot of questions. Thank you again for helping us field possible solutions to our political problem.

  14. Greg,

    I’ll also add that while nonconforming uses are supposed to be construed narrowly consistent with the property rights of the owner, the amendment acts as though it only need be consistent with the property rights of adjacent owners, as though they have vested property rights in their neighbor’s zoning status. That’s just not the law.

  15. As Mr. Courreges has pointed out, the regulations and permits factor in this town is worthy of Emperor Theodoric. The main problem is citizens’ apathy and ignorance of these constitutional points of “law”. There have always been efforts to restrain the population, be it political or religious, usually based on some kind of economic advantage of one group over the other. That has, traditionally, how fortunes are made. If the city wants to increase revenues, look to the only real “business” New Orleans has: tourism. No one comes to New Orleans to sit in someone’s backyard, sipping de-caff and watching Lawrence Welk on television. A couple of years ago some advocate for squelching live music actually said, “I would not object to a small trio playing some nice music.” Now, read that a second time. “Nice” music. A small trio of what: a harp, flute, and viola,
    playing the slow movements of Vivaldi?
    If the other business of New Orleans is litigation, then let’s have at it! Let’s join together to CHANGE or eliminate the regulations imposed on our culture. There is a whole industry whose only reason for being is writing regulations and requiring “permits” for everything. Maybe THEY should join the ranks of the unemployed. I seem to remember all the regulations imposed by a system called Jim Crow. This systematic and efficient regulatory body did wonders for a certain segment of our society. And everything was “legal”. The effects are still felt today.

  16. 95% of this stuff is driven by neighborhood associations. Go to a few meetings and you’ll start to understand how it works. I promise you, this isn’t Stacy’s fault. In this city if you want to have some influence (especially where zoning is concerned), getting involved with your neighborhood association is the place to start. If you and your like-minded friends are not going to those meetings once per month, you are probably being represented by people who do not share your interests. So, it should be no surprise that things aren’t going your way.

  17. A more ridiculous situation can’t possibly exist anywhere else but New Orleans, Louisiana. The banana republic. I’d say buck the ruling and listen to the music.

  18. “I do have my suspicions, though, and I will express those. My suspicion
    is, whether coordinated or not, that Head and Landrieu share a desire
    to make New Orleans a smaller, wealthier city by shutting down dive
    bars, so-called “nuisance bars” and everything in between to change the
    character of New Orleans into something more quiet, more bland, and more

    Here’s what’s crazy about this:


    Example: Finn McCool’s – they took over a dead dive bar and it gradually enlivened an entire Mid-City district.

    The Hi-Ho is another example of this. So is Vaughn’s. And etc. People see the neighborhood, they drive through it, next thing you know support businesses are building up around it, employees want to rent nearby, the business gets involved in neighborhood issues, there is more activity, less crime, more homes being built and renovated, wealthier, professional or entrepreneurial types move in.

    If what you say is their (Mitch & Head’s) intention well they’ve got a seriously bad misconception about how to build up neighborhoods and city incomes.

  19. What you have described is nothing new in this city. In the 1960’s the cops and city used to hassle the Seven Seas on St. Philip St. and La Casa on Decatur by arresting their patrons on bogus charges as they exited those establishments and sending in city inspectors to check all the plumbing. Examples of small minds.
    Today the children of those city employees are doing the same thing, they are small minded parochial breeders bent on sustaining the Catholic boys’ ideas of “good clean fun.”

  20. Mr. Courreges should put his body where his mouth is and move next door to one of these dive bars he champions so loudly. Frenchman St. has plenty of venues for live music, and the adjacent area has become unlivable for anyone trying to keep normal hours, or with children. St. Claude is another street that offers live music, and the requirement to have a permit is nothing new. There is no conspiracy. The city has both the right and the duty to preserve the peace for residents. The lack of this sort of oversight has given us the upper Quarter and Bourbon St., and you may notice that few people choose to live there.

    • NMarsh,

      I live a block away from Eiffel Society and there are two other bars within two blocks of my house. There’s a corner grocery (a nonconforming use) across the street from my house. All of these businesses have some externalities and often I don’t like them, but I’m not trying to shut anybody down. I think I’ve put my money where my mouth is just fine.

      I’m not saying that all live music venues are acting responsibly. The decibel noise ordinances are not difficult to comply with, and some businesses simply refuse. They should be cited for that, particularly after 10pm when people are trying to sleep. But the drive to close everyone down is ridiculous, and the permit requirement is too onerous because of zoning laws. Even good, responsible venues are being caught up in this.

      Finally, my sympathy for somebody who moves into the western part of the Marigny or the Quarter and complains about noise, bars, etc., is pretty minimal given that those areas have been hot spots for music clubs since before any of us were born. It’s ebbed and flowed, sure, but nobody who moves into the oldest areas should be shocked about these issues.

    • Well, Marsh, as I recall it, Lee Circle was skid row for a number of years, with a YMCA posing as a homeless shelter and two run down gas stations. Now the YMCA has been two major boutique hotels, the Ogden has moved to the area, there have been perhaps 1-2 major apartment/condo renovations on the block, one gas station is gone awaiting a new construction on the site and the other gas station has been greatly renovated and improved.

      The Hi-Ho preceded Siberia and it has led a major renaissance (for that area), including art galleries and now a redeveloped St. Roch Market.

      It seems to me that people with means, energy and ideas very much want to live and work and build in these environs.

  21. Interesting story. Why don’t you call Madame Head and get her on-the-record comments? For that matter, call Half-Moon too.

  22. phil,

    There’s more to it than property values, but that’s a huge chunk of it. People essentially act as though they have a property right in their property values, which just isn’t the case. Buying property involves risk, and that should include some risk from neighboring land uses, with or without zoning. Nonetheless, it gives neighbors an incentive to challenge any non-residential land uses, and in a city like New Orleans, that just doesn’t work.

    I wish people would understand that they have a right to comfortable enjoyment of their property free from nuisances from surrounding properties. However, any control that goes beyond that should be seriously questioned. If your only complaints are things like foot traffic and parking, those are fairly minor and can often be mitigated. And if you’re trying to shut down existing businesses or terminate long-standing uses, that’s just plain wrong.

    • ‘People essentially act as though they have a property right in their property values, which just isn’t the case.’ i have to say that’s an excellent quote! and btw i’m an uptown home owner so i essentially stand to gain from gentrification…

  23. Owen, here’s one more working theory for you and Jeffrey at LC:

    If you’ve noticed Sports Vue has been shut down, and I think there has been at least one other perhaps at Claiborne & Esplanade. These other closings with Circle and Siberia might be a convenient way for Mitch Landrieu to assert that it’s “not just ‘black’ bars” and clubs that are being shut down as nuisance venues. It’s true that Head may have had one thing in mind, but Mitch is using it for another altogether.

    Whose district(s) is Circle and Siberia in? Head & Guidry. Whose districts are nuisance bars (like Sports Vue and the one on Esplanade) being sought to be closed in? Head & Guidry. This may be the law of unintended consequences and political gamesmanship.

    I’d be really surprised if Guidry & Head are in favor of the Circle and Siberia closings – has anyone actually asked them?

    • NotOwen,

      Well, I sent an e-mail to Head’s office yesterday to solicit a response and she has a standing offer to write her own response for Uptown Messenger (which she still may do; it’s only Tuesday). Right now, I’m just surprised that no elected official has been talking about this. This is big news among a huge segment of New Orleanians and yet everyone’s keeping mum. Nobody should really have to ask; heck, if I were in office I’d be shouting my opinion from the rooftops (of course, that’s probably a huge part of the reason I’m not in political office).

      • Sorry, I said Guidry but obviously Siberia would not be in Guidry’s district.

        If it or any other closed bars are in Palmer’s…. well she *didn’t* vote for (or against, she was absent) the ordinance if you notice….

  24. Catherine,

    Something like changing the standard of review for nonconforming uses is not the kind of thing you’d expect to rise up from neighborhood associations, although it’s possible. I do know that Head has been ardently against many nonconforming uses like corner stores. In any event, I think the council should be held responsible for what it does. It represents the people of New Orleans, not just those who join neighborhood groups.

    Also, I would note that while Head moved for this amendment, the whole council voted for it. It was unanimous. There seems to be a unified desire to essentially give the mayor’s office carte blanche over nonconforming uses (as if he didn’t have enough power already).

    • I have been to many neighborhood association meetings and other public meetings over the last several years. Over and over again I have heard people angrily insisting that the existing zoning & permitting laws be enforced. Here in the Marigny, folks are constantly up in arms about non-conforming convenience stores selling liquor, etc. I almost never hear anyone voice any other opinions on these topics… nothing but applause after each and every angry rant. I have to assume Stacy Head and the rest of the council members are hearing the same thing in church basements and community centers all over the city.

      I’m trying to make two points: 1- I think it’s likely that Head believes she is carrying out the will of her constituents, and unlikely that she is involved in some kind of conspiracy to water down our culture, and 2- We, as supporters of live music, art and whatever else we are supporters of, need to start doing some supporting.

  25. addendum as to what was said earlier:

    i live by the sandpiper on a street (Louisiana)
    where almost all of the properties are
    mixed residential/commercial zoned.

    not ONLY is it safer, but the first people
    back after Katrina?

    wasnt the assholes who bitch about them.

    their properties are STILL VACANT !

    the bars and business/houses?

    THEY were the FIRST ONES BACK.

  26. Is the text of Cm. Head’s ordinance online? I can’t find anything relating to it in either the January Council agendas or the zoning ordinances at Municode.

    • Hey Rob, I found this:

      “Section 13.2. – Discontinuance Of Nonconforming Uses, Land And Buildings – 13.2.1.  Vacancy as Discontinuance.

      No nonconforming building or portion thereof, or land used in whole or
      in part for nonconforming purposes, which hereafter becomes and remains
      vacant for a continuous period of six (6) calendar months shall again be
      used except in conformity with the regulations of the district in which
      such building or land is situated. The intent of the owner or other
      person to use a building or land for nonconforming purposes shall not be
      determinative of whether such building or land was vacant. The burden
      of proof to establish the existence and retention of a nonconforming use
      shall be on the property owner of the building or land claiming
      retention of said nonconforming use by clear and convincing evidence.
      (Ord. No. 024751, § 1, adopted 3/1/12)”
      As you can see it was formally adopted just this March 1st.

      You know, this isn’t just an issue for live music, I’m guessing there are some property owners and business owners who will probably be very surprised about this because appears to relate to almost any (supposed) CZO nonconformity.

    • Rob,

      Here it is on Municode (you’ll have to scroll through):


      and here’s her motion from January to adopt the language (well, to have the City Attorney draft an ordinance to be passed – it was effective as of March):


      The language from the “strict construction” paragraph of the ordinance was lifted from a 1992 decision from the Louisiana 4th Circuit that misstated legal reasoning from a 1984 Louisiana Supreme Court decision. It is true that nonconforming uses are to be narrowly construed, but this is consistent with the property owner’s rights, not those of his neighbors. There has never been any Louisiana decision suggesting that zoning laws create property rights, and any such decision would be wildly inconsistent with the idea that zoning laws are derogations from property rights.

      The case law on zoning in Louisiana is very confusing, with newer decisions often failing to expressly correct older ones. If I’ve made any misstatements through discussing this issue, that’s probably the reason. It is regrettable that the case law is so muddled because the one bulwark against runaway zoning is litigation. Still, I hold out some hope that when a court actually gets a hold of this ordinance, the “clear and convincing” requirement will be on shaky ground.

  27. My wife and I run SHULTZILLA, and we have been part of the Freret St. Market for two years. When they announced we all had to get the permit, we were told it was as simple as calling someone number they gave us.

    When we tried to get this “simple” permit, do you know how much bull shit we had to go through to get it? Countless phone calls. Countless emails. Countless ignored messages. Countless ignored emails. When we would get a hold of someone they’d tell us “I’m about to step out, I will call you back in 30 minutes.” Only to never hear from them again.

    We finally went down there in person and wouldn’t leave until someone helped us. It was absolutely ridiculous and completely inconvenient for something as simple as a stupid permit to sell a t shirt at an art market.

    New Orleans City Hall is a complete joke, and it has been for decades. I don’t see it changing any time soon.

    • Jeremy Miller: Have you ever actually, physically, gone to City Hall to get something done? The moment you step up to a counter, everyone seems to be “on break”, or just walks away. I gave up.

      • Yes. In fact, that was the only way we could get the permit. it wasn’t quick by any means. I wasted almost an entire day sitting and waiting. But we needed the permit or we couldn’t operate.

  28. Dont vote Democrat for a change…get someone who understands or has empathy towards business and artist’s trying to make a living

  29. This is proof of what I said when I moved away from New Orleans post-Katrina. New Orleans is not the exciting city it once was because it has been taken over by a geriatric, conservative demographic. So sad!

  30. If you want to have live music, then build a proper venue with sound proofing. Most of us work 5 days a week and have to get up early which makes YOUR fun an irritation to us.

    • Pjohnson,

      Landrieu is attacking venues regardless of whether they have proper soundproofing or have noise complaints. And city law allows that. So this isn’t really the issue here.

  31. Owen,
    Its not that City Hall or this administration doesn`t like live music, The unwritten rule of this city is you have To “PAY to PLAY” and that does not mean just paying for a mayorality permit in order to play live music.
    Only in New Orleans, the government will issue a bona fide table service restaurant permit for a business at a particular address but then the unwritten rule of the City of New Orleans, says it doesn`t really mean you can operate a restaurant from the address on the license and plus you should have known that?
    I wonder how Chicago can be more corrupt Than the city of NO?

  32. Since music is a large part of Cajun, Creole, Louisiana and New Orleans Heritage. We can prove this beyond any doubt. To hinder any form of music, would be technically an assault on the different Races (Cajun, Americans of African Decent, Creole’s and Spainish) cultures. What’s next, Churches needing an alcohol permit for communion, so the state can get a dime? A general strike of all the business’ that make revenue with music directly or indirectly (grocery stores, elevator companies, radio stations, The Superdome, alcohol distributers, ect. any business that has music playing during operational hours.) would show Mayor Hairplug and the council crony not to side with outsider real estate interest.

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