Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: October 26th, 2007 by Walter Gallas

The house on Moss Avenue in New Orleans.I spoke before a City Council committee on the subject of a house on Moss Street on Bayou St. John, which had recently been demolished, because it was determined to be in imminent danger of collapse. I said that the Department of Safety and Permits has way too much discretion in how it defines imminent danger of collapse, thereby side-stepping any other reviews.

We had inspected this house inside and out in early July. It had been placed on the “voluntary demolition” list by its owner, presumably to clear the lot courtesy of FEMA funds so that the land could be redeveloped. We challenged its listing, saying its condition was pre-Katrina blight, but FEMA did not remove it from the demolition list. It was definitely not in any danger of collapsing. Apparently the owner chose to fund the demolition himself, and somehow persuaded city inspectors to make the imminent danger determination.

There are serious problems with the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits. The director of the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC) told me that just last week six houses within the local historic districts his agency oversees, were demolished without HDLC review—but with a demolition permit from the Department of Safety and Permits.

Walter Gallas is director of the New Orleans Field Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.