The New Orleans City Council is one step closer to creating new guidelines for outdoor live music and other entertainment aimed at replacing the confusing and restrictive rules currently in place.
On Thursday, the council unanimously moved forward with the latest version of the proposed rules, guided by recommendations from City Planning Commission (CPC) staff. The committee will now make those changes and send them back to the council for another vote in the coming months.
Until then, venue owners and musicians remain in limbo, operating under temporary rules set by Mayor LaToya Cantrell through her pandemic emergency order. The order lifted the limit on the number of special event permits businesses can obtain in a year for live outdoor entertainment — 8 separate events in a maximum of 24 days — but Cantrell can end the order at any time.
Even with the rules temporarily relaxed, uncertainty and expensive permit fees have prompted owners of popular outdoor venues to close their doors or undergo major renovations to continue operating legally.
The rules proposed by the council would create a permit for most venues that can have indoor live entertainment to have regular outdoor live entertainment. The city would allow the owners of these venues to host outdoor live music up to three times a week — without forcing them to apply for and pay for a separate permit each time.
The new permit will be what’s called a “conditional use,” meaning businesses must first apply for it by submitting their noise control, site plans and other required documents to the city. Neighbors could get involved in these plans, which will eventually go to the CPC and the city council for approval.
The city can then revoke the permit if business owners and employees don’t follow the agreed-upon rules.
“We want to end the process of people going through this kind of chaotic, random thing that they’re doing right now with social events and we want to bring them into this conditional use process,” Andrew Tuozzolo, chief of staff to the Council President Helena Moreno, told Gambit before the meeting. Moreno’s office is spearheading the City Council’s effort to change the city’s outdoor recreation rules.
Although most commonly associated with live music, outdoor live entertainment can also include theater, comedy, dancing, DJing, and other types of performances. The rules will not affect second lines, private events at private residences, markets, special events or street performances.
Overall, the permit will allow the city to allow outdoor performances up to three days a week from 11pm to 9pm on weekday evenings and until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Live entertainment at hotels will be more limited on weekdays.
Under the proposed rules, there also would have to be a buffer zone of at least 30 feet between outdoor live entertainment and a residential neighborhood, up from the 15 feet originally considered. The Council or the CPC could further increase this buffer on a case-by-case basis.
The council also added to the proposed rules a requirement that the city post online a list of businesses to which it grants conditional use permits for outdoor live entertainment. The website should also include the terms of that agreement, such as when the city allows a business to have live outdoor entertainment.
The proposed rules require businesses to follow the city’s sound ordinance, which sets the city’s legal sound levels. But the way the ordinance is written makes it practically unenforceable. Any new regulation would have to go through the health department, which has been busy dealing with the pandemic for the past few years.
Moreno said in the meantime, the city will be able to enforce the hours businesses are allowed to have live music, regardless of noise ordinance status, potentially through the Office of Safety and Permits and the new Office of the Nighttime Economy.
Council member Joe Giarrusso said he is working to make sure the city will have the staff to enforce the rules. “If we’re going to do new things, that’s exciting, but we also have to make sure we have the staff to support them,” he said.
The council won’t take a final vote on the rules until the fall. There will be more opportunities for the public and stakeholders to weigh in before this vote and for the council to make further changes.
Ethan Ellestad, executive director of the New Orleans Music and Culture Coalition, said the council, which honors Tank and the Bangas, earlier in the day stressed the need for front-end legislation to support musicians.
“To be able to be here and see this as it progresses and create new safe outdoor spaces that are really not just about public health but economic development that will help create these cultural spaces that will allow for the next generation to come out and carry on is fantastic,” he said.
Council vice-president JP Morrell said the creation of clearer and less restrictive rules allowing regular outdoor live music in the city was long overdue. Even in the latest iteration of the outdoor music debate, it’s been a year and a half since the outdoor live entertainment study was presented to council for further action.
“It’s amazing to me when you travel this country and you go to other cities, they have outdoor venues where our musicians can practice their craft and they’re making huge amounts of money off of it,” Morell said. “Yet in the city of New Orleans, it took us this long to finally allow our musicians to make this much money and share their art at home.”
Howie Kaplan connects the dots between the city’s nightlife and City Hall.