City board delays decision on T-shirt shops’ appeals

Thirteen French Quarter T-shirt shops under fire by the city will get another month to put together appeals of citations for illegal operation issued to them last year.

Attorneys for the owners successfully petitioned the Board of Zoning Adjustments on Monday to defer voting on the matter to give them more time to get documents from the city.

The board had been set to consider appeals from the 13 Bourbon, Decatur and Royal Street businesses cited in September by the Department of Safety and Permits for violating a 2010 city ordinance prohibiting new T-shirt, novelty and souvenir shops in the French Quarter and establishing stricter operating rules for those already in existence.

But Justin Schmidt, an attorney representing 10 of the businesses, said he needed more time to gather documents from the city’s Bureau of Revenue before the BZA considers the appeals.

The documents he has received from the office so far through a public-records request are insufficient, he said.

Schmidt said he wants copies of the applications the owners submitted for occupational and business licenses over at least the past decade.

The Bureau of Revenue has denied that request because gathering the information would be burdensome, he told the board. Schmidt said he intends to file for a subpoena this week demanding that the city turn over the information.

Schmidt said he thinks the applications will show his clients have operated as T-shirt shops for decades and therefore should be considered as legal nonconforming uses exempt from the 2010 zoning change banning new T-shirt and souvenir shops.

The 2010 ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes the French Quarter, took effect in January 2011.

Michael Martin, an attorney representing two groups of French Quarter residents, the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates and French Quarter Citizens, argued against Schmidt’s request for a delay.

He said the records the city has turned over are sufficient to establish that the shops in question do not qualify as legal nonconforming uses.

Martin said the businesses should not be grandfathered in under the old zoning rules because they did not properly identify themselves as T-shirt shops in their earlier applications for licenses. Instead of listing the proper code for souvenir or T-shirt shop on the applications, for instance, some of the businesses used the code for “general merchandise” and other categories, he said. That means they cannot claim they were pre-existing T-shirt shops, Martin said.

The BZA voted unanimously to hold the matter over until next month.