Many people don’t realize it but zoning—a set of ordinances that control the physical development in a city—has a tremendous impact on cultural activity, particularly live entertainment. It controls which businesses can have live music, how late, and if there can be a cover charge at the door. For many years, New Orleans restricted live entertainment so heavily that poetry readings were illegal in most coffee shops, playing an instrument for an audience of even one person was a violation, and even practicing and instrument in your own home could be interpreted as breaking the law. In addition, many venues were limited to 3 or fewer musicians without amplification, and for many neighborhood venues, a closure of 6 or more months meant they would lose their ‘grandfathered’ status and no longer be able to host live music.
In 2015, New Orleans updated the zoning ordinance for the first time in over 30 decades. MaCCNO helped with that process, and we were successful in making a number of ‘culture friendly’ changes, incuding:
-- the re-writing of the definition of live entertainment to make it much less restrictive, legalizing a number of activities (like poetry readings) that were previously heavily restricted.
-- Removal of the limit of 3 musicians in many business, as well as the removal of limits on the use of amplification, which is already covered in the noise ordinance
-- clarification of language to ensure it is legal to play an instrument in your home
-- the creation of a number of new arts and cultural districts, including assisting in crafting the St. Claude Arts and Culture Overlay
-- We also heavily supported a change that allows live music in standard (sit-down) restaurants
Since the passage of the new zoning ordinance, we also successfully defeated an proposal that would have created new limitations on live music on Maple St.
We continue to advocate for additional changes to zoning in the city. Currently, we are pushing for a change that would allow live music in industrial zones, where it is inexplicably forbidden.