I appeared along with representatives of the Preservation Resource Center and the Mid-City Neighborhood Association to testify before Councilwoman Stacy Head’s Housing and Human Needs Committee about proposed revisions to the ordinance governing the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC)—which is to be rechristened the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee.
This is the committee which must consider demolition applications outside of the local historic districts, but within a portion of the city containing the National Register districts and other older neighborhoods. The ordinance is to be introduced at the January 24 City Council meeting. Several improvements are being made:
- the number of community representatives is bumped up from two to five, so that each of the council districts can be represented;
- the department of safety and permits will not sit on the committee, but rather serve as staff assigned to the committee;
- all National Register districts will be under this committee—including those which could be added in the future;
- the meetings will move to the City Council chambers allowing the meetings to be seen on cable access;
- anyone aggrieved by a decision of the committee will now be able to appeal the decision to the City Council (currently, only the applicant may appeal); and
- the troublesome “70 percent rule” will be eliminated.
This last provision was being abused as the department of safety and permits appeared to be raising damage assessments on properties to 70 percent or more so that property owners could avoid a hearing before the committee.
The HCDRC met the same day as the council committee was crafting the above changes. In a meeting that lasted about six hours, it plowed through 91 demolition applications. In contrast to its past performance, the committee’s meeting was more carefully run. The committee listened to testimony brought by the PRC and Squandered Heritage—who presented more up-to-date photographs of the properties. Twenty-nine of the demolition applications were denied. The Times-Picayune commended the actions of the committee in an editorial, saying “Reform was needed, not only because people were unhappy but also because a push to demolish houses could rob New Orleans of its character, which owes so much to its distinctive housing stock.”