211 N Rendon

September 12th, 2008 by Editor B

I’m quoted in an article in today’s Times-Picayune.

Nagin stills review panel; preservationists cry foul
by Michelle Krupa, The Times-Picayune

Claiming a desire to avoid “unnecessary delays” in removing buildings badly damaged by Hurricane Gustav, Mayor Ray Nagin on Friday suspended the work of a panel that reviews requests for demolition permits in many historic neighborhoods.

The move has drawn howls from preservationists who challenge the justification for the executive order. They pointed out that the mayor already had authority to order properties deemed in “imminent danger of collapse” to be razed without consulting the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee or even notifying the owners.

They note also that the decree, which has no expiration date, effectively has allowed the Nagin administration to fast-track demolition permits for dozens of Katrina-damaged properties by sidestepping a mandated historic review.

“The mayor seems to have opened up the floodgates for the issuance of demolition permits that aren’t appropriate, ” said Walter Gallas, the New Orleans field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head said she hopes “this is just a clerical snafu and not an attempt by the executive branch to subvert” the review process.

The executive order does not apply to requests to demolish properties overseen by the Historic District Landmarks Commission or the Vieux Carre Commission.

Nagin’s press office did not respond immediately to questions about the executive order.

Created last year to replace a similar oversight board, the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee is charged with protecting from demolition structurally sound buildings that are important to the architectural fabric of older neighborhoods stretching from the Jefferson Parish line to the lakefront to the border with St. Bernard Parish.

The 13-member body reviews requests from private property owners who want to raze houses and commercial buildings, as well as city condemnation orders for properties that aren’t collapsing but nevertheless threaten public health and safety.

If the committee turns down an application, the Safety and Permits Department cannot issue a demolition permit unless the City Council overturns the ruling or the building deteriorates to the edge of collapse.

Of 162 demolition permits issued since last week, 64 percent were assigned to the city contractor hired to tear down properties in imminent danger of collapse, according to a review by Matt McBride, an activist who maintains a database of demolition permits granted since Katrina.

Of the remaining 57 permits that were handed to private contractors or to the city vendor assigned to tear down Katrina-damaged buildings, 52 are located in areas where the committee’s review would have been required. Of those, 24 were slated for review at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 2, the day after Gustav struck, the review shows.

Mid-City homeowner Bart Everson had planned to attend that meeting to object to a request for a city-financed “voluntary demolition” at 211 N. Rendon St., a single shotgun that needs major exterior work but appears sturdy. One in a row of four nearly identical old houses, Everson said tearing it down would break the block’s architectural flow.

“The value of that is gone every time you pull down a house and put up something that has less character, ” he said.

Because of Gustav, though, Everson never got to make his plea. And on Wednesday, with the executive order in place, the city contractor that handles Katrina-related teardowns secured a permit to raze it.

“I’m dumbfounded. I really can’t believe that it’s true, ” Everson said. “It seems like if it was fixed up, you would have a whole block of this classic architecture, and all those properties would enhance one another.”

Here’s a picture of the house in question:

N Rendon 211 Left Side

But you really have to see the whole block to appreciate the context. This house is one of four shotgun singles all in a row.

Props to M. Krupa for quoting me accurately, a refreshing approach that more journalists should employ. The scope of the article didn’t allow for my ruminations on irresponsible property owners. I don’t know what’s up at 211 N. Rendon. There are perhaps perfectly legitimate explanations for why this house is still uninhabitable three years after the flood. Immediately after Katrina I was inclined to give property owners the benefit of the doubt. But time and again I’ve found the only explanation for their neglect is lack of responsibility, lack of caring for the neighborhood. I hasten to emphasize that I haven’t investigated this case closely enough to make such a judgment — but I’m skeptical.

I’m not a diehard preservationist. If something really is an “imminent health threat” then it should be torn down. But this administration has proven itself utterly incompetent at administering this process. And now Nagin wants to get rid of a check built in to the process? That ain’t right. This house, for example, doesn’t appear to be any worse after Gustav than before. Gustav shouldn’t be used as an excuse to change the process.

12 Responses to “211 N Rendon”

  1. Kent Says:

    It looks like a great house! Sorry to hear the news.

    Your ability to get the attention of the press, as well as your active involvement in community and media, lead me to suggest a career in politics. I’m pretty sure you’ve thought about this before, at the local level. And although I would like to nudge your politics a bit left first, I think that regardless of your political leanings you would have the ability to bring people together, and would have some success in using policy to make the World a better place.

    Can’t help it … just rambling …

  2. Sbalia Says:

    If a homeowner wants to demolish his property, why should he not be able to? I can understand people being upset if a house is left to the point of collapse, but if someone just doesn’t want to deal with the immense expense of fixing a house in an unsafe neighborhood, why complain? It seems that people are always ready to demmand that the owner “do something”, with no regard to the expense to the owner. I am sure some people will say “they can afford to fix it”, but it’s not a matter of means, it’s a business decision. If I were the owner and wanted to tear down a house, I don’t know that I would care to have anyone tell me how to run my business.

  3. Editor B Says:

    Sbalia: Sorry for not spelling out more clearly. Our neighborhood has been designated as a National Historic District and there is supposed to be a review process for all demolitions. That doesn’t mean an owner can’t demolish a given house, but it is supposed to discourage capricious demolitions and preserve the historic fabric and character of the neighborhood. (That’s partly why we bought our house there.) As you can imagine, there’s a great deal of subjectivity in such distinctions, and the process can get hairy. If someone “just doesn’t want to deal with the immense expense of fixing a house in an unsafe neighborhood” then they should sell in my opinion. By the way, I live in this neighborhood and am raising my daughter here. Obviously “unsafe” is a subjective matter as well.

  4. Sbalia Says:

    I understand the argument, but I don’t agree. I have read your blog (and will continue to) with great interest ever since I found it shortly after Katrina. I am a lifelong New Orleanian and I am very familiar with your neighborhood. I understand that you live in the neighborhood and I respect your decision to live there. Having said that, it’s certainly easy to suggest that the owner sell, but the question remains “who will buy?” If there is no viable market and no viable buyer, then a house could possibly (and probably would) stay on the market for years. I am not a realtor, but I can’t imagine there are many people lining up to buy flooded out houses in that neighborhood. Of course, going through the expense of remoldeling and remediation would likely price the place out of the market in that area. The owner could then rent, I suppose, but then would likely have to chage a higher rate in order to cover his investment. I have read the comments of other posters here with some amusement; it’s obvious as they rail against increased rents that they have no idea what it costs to make a flooded home ready to live in. I know you understand, as you have done it yourself. Imagine your wanting to rent out your home and someone attempting to arbitrarily set a “fair” rent having no idea of the expense you incurred in your renovation. My point is, historic district or not, at some point you have to deal with houses people don’t want. I suspect that if this house was one that someone wanted, the owner would be getting offers on it.

  5. Editor B Says:

    Sbalia, certainly reasonable people can disagree on the value of National Historic Districts. I gather you’re just plain against them. But we’re veering rather far from the actual point of the article: Namely, the mayoral administration using Gustav as an excuse to circumvent the process. You don’t like this particular law, but what about the rule of law in general?

  6. Gene Ha Says:

    I grew up in South Bend, IN, which was hit pretty hard by the 1968 riots and white flight to the suburbs. Throughout the 70s and 80s the downtown was depopulated and then demolished. For parking lots.

    In the 90s and this decade downtowns have made a comeback. Downtown South Bend is a scattering of old buildings, some ugly new buildings, and lots of mostly empty parking lots. New businesses and housing mostly set up in new developments outside of town. South Bend is struggling, scarred and lacking in walking neighborhoods.

    Compare this to various towns that preserved their historic downtowns, most of which have staged comebacks. Unregulated demolition can permanently wreck a town.

  7. PJ Says:

    @ Sbalia, I respect your POV, but have a different take. We went through the whole process with our Broadmoor home and found a willing buyer. My first option was to demolish and at my hearing they denied my request because I hadn’t tested the market for the house.

    I was devastated. Then I gathered myself in advance of my follow up meeting which was set to prove that I had made the attempt, there was no market, and it was best to demolish and let someone buy the empty land for a pre-built. I put it on craigslist and ebay, I guess it got just enough attention, and in 30 days we had an offer and soon after it was sold.

    To a company that renovates flooded homes and puts them back on the market. Our house is the nicest house on the street. All in all very positive.

    I had the same assumptions about the market for a flooded home and was wrong. The review process works and its a shame the city is apparently using Gustav to get around the review process. Put the house on the market, every house has a price to somebody.

  8. sbalia Says:

    Guys:

    I am not against historic preservation or national historic districts. I am against this particular process. In some cases, mine being one, people inherit these properties when familiy members die. That’s fine for a normal market where the house can be rented to decent people for a rent they can afford, working poor or not. Having said that, some owners simply don’t have the resources to restore and would rather have an empty lot that might be of some use at a later date. I don’t know how much a demo costs, but I am certain it’s less expensive than a remodel. I don’t know that there is a way these owners can be forced to remediate these places, so the city grants demolition permits to get rid of an eyesore and potential crack house or other hazrd. I can understand the historic preservation part, but why preserve a history no one seems interested in? Are there similar houses for sale int he area? Are they moving?
    As for the rule of law, I believe in it very much. I also believe that laws that don’t make sense or that don’t serve the interests of society at large should be changed. I can hear the hue and cry now; these preservation laws do serve the greater interests of society….by and large I agree. In this case I disagree. Look at the neighborhood. If everyone were interested, people would be stacked up to move into the area and I don’t see that happening. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I drive the area at least twice a week and I don’t see it.

  9. randall Says:

    Sbalia Are you like having a mental fart right now, okay you say i am not againt historic districts or preservation but you think its okay for someone to demolish their house if they are being lazy about it even if its historic, idk mabye im confused but thats not being supportinve of preservation, If people arent taking care of their house then the city should take the house and give it away for free to someone who will fix it, Im 100 percent sure someone would restore a historic house if they got it for free. You dont even seem to live in mid city considering you drive by there Once or twice a week, and if you did you would know it is really comming back stronger in some ways then before katrina. and if your argument is that the city cannot seize the properties and resell them, well if they are demolishing them they should certainly able be able to take possesstion of them from lazy owners, and hey if the house does not meet code then fine the property owner, they city has powers to do that already they are just to screwed up to do so.

  10. Editor B Says:

    Randal, now now. I like to keep it civil here. Accusing someone of a “mental fart” is kind of insulting and doesn’t help you make your case.

    Sbalia, I think you make some very good points. We may not agree completely but I think we’re closer than you might suspect. The thing I’m having a hard time with is the rule of law. It seems like you’re giving a Nagin a pass on this because you didn’t like the process that was in place. But next time the process circumvented might be one you like. Don’t you think the mayor should follow the rules? Trust me when I say this doesn’t have anything to do with Gustav.

    As for the block in question, every home there has been either fixed up or is under renovation now — except 211.

  11. Sbalia Says:

    Editor B:

    I think you are right about us being close in our points of view. I am not really giving the mayor a pass on this one, I guess I am simply too used to him and his administration doing whatever they like in many circumstances. I absolutely agree that he should follow the ruless, but he seems to do as he pleases with impunity. His constituants must agree, he got re-elected, right?

    As for the preservation issue, I guess the point I am trying to make is that preservation is great. I don’t agree to preservation at all costs.

    As for randall, I don’t really know what to say. I’ll default to the advice my mother gave me as a child.

  12. Editor B Says:

    I just became aware of who owns 211 N Rendon. Drum roll please. It’s… the Road Home! That’s right, apparently this property is owned by the state’s recovery program.

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