On Friday, September 5, the mayor, invoking his emergency powers, issued an executive order suspending demolition review by the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee (NCDC), the body designed to keep an eye on properties in National Register and older neighborhoods outside of the local historic districts. The committee's normally-scheduled meeting the previous Monday had been scuttled by the city's mandatory evacuation due to Hurricane Gustav. The mayor's action triggered a flurry of activity within the Department of Safety and Permits, which began to write demolition permits at an accelerated pace for the next two weeks. By 5:00 p.m. on Friday, September 19 (when the mayor's executive order was rescinded), about 200 permits had been written.
At least 18 properties under the jurisdiction of the NCDC were demolished this past week, including an especially tragic one at 923-25 St. Maurice Street, just outside the boundaries of the local Holy Cross historic district. The property had been cited as an imminent health threat and was on the agenda of the September meeting of the NCDC, which was canceled due to the mayor’s order. I went to City Hall Wednesday morning and talked to a staff member of Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis in whose district the house is located, urging the staff member to relay to the councilwoman that the house was not in imminent danger of collapse and could be saved.
Later that day, Willard-Lewis scolded the preservation community at the City Council recovery committee meeting, while commending the city inspectors for making their decisions "based on science, not on emotions." The house was demolished. It turns out that the city assessor’s office had not properly updated the ownership records for the St. Maurice house, so all attempts to reach the owner were too late to save the building. The wife of the couple owning the house had lost her job with the public school district after Katrina, we learned when the owner finally was reached — but most heart-breaking, was the fact that the couple had just received their Road Home money to repair the house. Had Willard-Lewis stepped in and stopped the demolition, the house — and the family — would have had a whole different story. Had there been a public hearing on the proposed demolition, the likelihood of the correct owner being identified would also have increased.
The incompetence of code enforcement throughout the city continued to be recorded by the local media this past week. In one story, a woman who had evacuated the city for hurricane Gustav returned to find her home in New Orleans East demolished. In another case, the city’s code enforcement department cited and fined the owner of an occupied commercial building in New Orleans East for blight and threatened demolition. See the two links below for details:
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