Another One Gone

It would have been nice if this big old house could have been preserved. It would have been nice if someone had taken responsibility for this property and not allowed it to further deteriorate and become a haven for vagrants and a (perceived) threat to the residents across the street.

3114 Iberville

Instead, we get another empty lot. The demolition of this building actually clears an entire city block. There’s another vacant city block on the other side of Bienville. Our block is between these two empty blocks. We’re feeling a little pinched.

But at least I got this funny picture out of the deal:

Big Squirt

Slated for Demolition

As Ashley noted, Victory got their permit to demolish the Lindy Boggs hospital (formerly known as Mercy).

This was decided by the Housing Conservation District Review Committee at a meeting that took place on the last day of the year, December 31st. Alan was there and provides a comprehensive account of just how dysfunctional the meeting revealed HCDRC to be. The indefatigable Matt McBride has also been circulating an analysis of what’s wrong with HCDRC. If you really want to get your blood boiling, read this letter from a homeowner who was subject to an erroneous demolition.

Much of the focus in these writings is on the demolition of homes — a worthy subject to be sure. But I’d like to focus on what went down with regard to Victory and the old hospital, since I’ve written about this several times recently.

Here’s an update from Jennifer Weishaupt, VP of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, which details that aspect of the HCDRC meeting and also a preliminary meeting.

On Friday Dec 28th, three representatives of MCNO were joined by the President of Faubourg St John Neighborhood Ass’n and a representative of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, in a meeting with Richard Cortizas and Bill Hines – lawyers with Jones Walker representing Victory.

At that time we were informed that Victory has no redevelopment plans for Lindy Boggs site for the near future (2-3 years). This was attributed to the downturn in the housing, retail and credit markets over the past year. Development sooner than that time would only happen if there are changes in the economy.

The following details of the demolition plans were presented:

  • Demolition would begin in approximately 2 months and would last about 5 months.
  • Method of demolition is by heavy equipment.
  • Demolition would take place Monday – Friday from about 7am – 5pm
  • They are willing to agree to truck routes
  • They have been working with the Louisiana Dept of Environmental Quality to address concerns about any materials in the building that might pose a threat to human health and/or the environment.

Following the meeting, the MCNO, FSJNA and FOLC representatives discussed options. At that time we agreed that continuing to take an adversarial position was not beneficial. This is mainly due to the fact that the HCDRC was very likely (>95%) to approve the demolition regardless of the position we took.

In an act of good faith on the part of our groups, we instead took a neutral position at today’s HCDRC hearing. The statement I made included the following:

  • We are disappointed in the outcome of Friday’s meeting, but appreciative that they met with us.
  • As an act of good faith on the part of the neighbors, who wish to engage in a constructive dialogue working with Victory for the future development, we were not taking a position of opposition.
  • I then outlined the demolition details as shown above.
  • I additionally asked that they either grass seed or sod the entire area, so that it will be more visually appealing until it is redeveloped.
  • We reiterated that MCNO plans to move forward with an Interim Zoning District for Mid-City (to implement the zoning which is called for in the Mid-City Plans) and that IZD would change the zoning before the time that Victory is ready to redevelop.
  • On behalf of MCNO & FOLC, we requested that Victory coordinate development of the Bohn Ford site in accordance with the Master Plan of the Lafitte Corridor Greenway.
  • On behalf of MCNO & FOLC, we requested that Victory arrange along with their tenants to meet with us to coordinate implementation of the Lafitte Corridor Greenway in those areas (Bohn, Rouse’s/Home Depot)

The items outlined above are being worked into a Letter of Committment which will be signed by Victory and MCNO. It should be in place in the next 2 weeks.

I am personally disappointed in the outcome, but honestly believe that this was the best strategic position to take. Thank you to the neighbors who took the time to attend today’s HCDRC Hearing (it was a LONG one).

I will plan to discuss this in more detail at the January 7th meeting (6:30pm, Grace Episcopal Church, yes, we know it is the BCS game, so will keep it brief).

Finally let me add the following bit of rumor. I’ve heard from a reputable source that part of Victory’s plan may be to wait out the current City Council in hopes of having a more favorable lineup when they present plans. Given the possible scope of the development — half a billion dollars — it seems possible that Victory could well buy some influence in the next election cycle. Something to think about.

Demolition Redux

Thanks to the City Council’s amendment last week, the City of New Orleans’ list of “Imminent Health Threat Demolition Properties” has been posted online.

Neighborhood groups should look at this closely — it appears to be slightly out of date, with some removed houses still on the list. Some mistakes are also still on the list. (But I note my next-door neighbor’s house has been removed.)

For questions or complaints, contact Winston Reid at 6658-4300.

See also this PDF with general tips for getting off the list. It’s slightly dated now, but still has good info.

Finally

Finally the Times-Picayune runs a story on erroneous demolitions. I can’t help but get the feeling they only did this because the Wall Street Journal scooped them yesterday. It should have been on the Times-Pic’s front page two weeks ago.

Furthermore, they still got it wrong. The headline in the paper (but not online) states that property owners are angry because they’re getting “demolition notices.” But that’s the whole problem — people are not being notified.

WSJ on Demolitions

The media has finally picked up the erroneous demolitions story. But strangely enough, it’s the Wall Street Journal. I wonder why the local media hasn’t covered it? Or maybe they have and I’ve missed it.

The article is worth checking out just for their picture of Karen “Gadfly” Gadbois in the classic WSJ style:

Gadfly

The article mentions Karen’s Squandered Heritage blog but doesn’t provide a link or even the web address. But I guess most WSJ readers know how to use Google.

Update: I didn’t realize this story was on the front page. Wow. And if it is hidden behind a paywall, you can read the full text on Dangerblond’s blog.

Erroneous Demolitions

A few days ago I posted something from a private email correspondence, regarding the subject of erroneous demolitions by the city of New Orleans. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted it, because the author asked me to remove it, but has graciously offered a revised version — see below.

And I’ve got to say this is stunning stuff.

I can’t understand why the local media aren’t covering this story. Anyway, read on for the revised message that spells it all out pretty well, and please note the PDF (linked at the bottom) of info/tips for people who want to get their property off the demolition list. The author is a concerned citizen of New Orleans who wishes to remain anonymous.
Continue reading “Erroneous Demolitions”

Proof

My next door neighbor (now living in Texas) was a little skeptical when I told him that his house was slated for demolition. Where was the proof? An Excel spreadsheet e-mailed to me by a woman I’ve never even met. Sounds a little sketchy. And this list can’t be found on any official websites.

Fortunately Karen and Sarah were good enough to find the listing published in the Times-Picayune. Here’s the picture:

Clipping

Pretty convincing proof that this isn’t just a figment of our collective imaginations. I sent this picture on to Craig. Thanks to Karen and Sarah for helping to get the news out.

Update: Karen also took a picture that illustrates the size of the demolition list. There have been so many listings the Times-Picayune published them as self-contained advertising supplements.

TP Lists

Demolition Map

Following up on yesterday’s post: Big thanks to Ashley Morris for putting together this swell interactive map of the City’s “imminent threat” demolition list. I’m not sure if it works on every browser, and it may take a while to load, but if you can view it you’ll be able to zoom in and move around. It’s a great tool for visualizing the scope of this list and may

Ashley’s a mensch. You should read his blog.

Razing New Orleans

Remember what I said about Bienville being just the tip of the iceberg? There are 1700+ properties on the “imminent threat” list. I just discovered my next door neighbor’s house is one of them! I called him (he’s in Texas) and he was shocked and alarmed. He has not been notified that his house is slated for demolition.

In an effort to visualize the scope of these demolitions, I’ve been fiddling around with BatchGeocode.com and Google Earth.

Imminent Threat

(I’ve posted the data to Google Earth Community for the true geeks.)

Of course I’ve been paying particular attention to the demolition in Mid-City. There are a lot of them, not just along Bienville. (I’ve posted Google Earth data for just Mid-City too.) According to a friend of mine, “The last major demolition of historic houses at this scale for urban renewal was the demolition of Treme for Louis Armstrong Park.”

I got an interesting phone call yesterday from a woman who read my blog and wanted to share some information anonymously. I asked her to put it in writing, so she sent me the following via e-mail, which I thought was quite extraordinary.
Continue reading “Razing New Orleans”

Bienville Under Siege

I’m all in a tizzy because of the recent news reported by Squandered Heritage. It seems there’s a ton of houses on Bienville that are on the city’s “imminent threat” list for demolition. These are supposed to be houses that pose an immediate threat to health and safety.

And some of them are. Some are clearly in need of immediate demolition.

Falling Apart

But there’s only a couple like that. Many appear to be in decent shape. Consider this one, right around the corner from me:

Bienville

Rock solid. These “raised basement” style houses weathered the flood pretty well. I should know because I’m living in one.

Furthermore, there’s ample evidence that many of the owners don’t want these properties demolished.

So what the hell is going on? I don’t know, but something ain’t right.

Here’s Councilmember Stacy Head’s reaction:

Bienville will be left NAKED and BARREN. I am at my wits end with so many irrational decisions here and I need help. Carla and I will press the city to STOP but we will need pressure from you too. This will be HORRID for Mid City!!!!!

The good folks at Squandered Heritage have also put up an interactive map of the Bienville properties.

Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Slated for Demolition, Again?

3319-21 Iberville Street [map]

Slated for Demolition?

This building was been proposed for demolition by FEMA. Since it’s in a historic district (Mid-City, my neighborhood) FEMA “requested the aid of the public in identifying alternatives to demolition.”

So I wrote to FEMA back in November and helped them identify some “alternatives.”

And, wonder of wonders, FEMA removed it from their demolition list.

Now, I learn from the Squandered Heritage website that the owners are applying to the Historic Conservation District Review Committee to demolish the house:

MID CITY: 3319-21 Iberville – Herbert Carver, owner. City of New Orleans, FEMA funded demolition (voluntary demolition). Demolition of a bracket-style double shotgun. No redevelopment plan submitted.

I’m not an expert, but it appears to me that this house could be renovated and made habitable for less cost than demolishing and building something new. I suspect the property owner merely plans to demolish. After all, the HCDRC agenda says, “No redevelopment plan submitted.”

But then the agenda also says the demolition is to be “FEMA funded.” That’s confusing to me, because FEMA wrote me in February to say this property was being removed from the demolition list.

The owner hasn’t even taken the basic step of removing the flooded contents after almost two years:

Inside

The house could have been gutted by now. There are numerous groups that do it for free.

According to the city’s website, this property has been reported for the following violations of the “Good Neighbor” program:

– Grass/weed overgrowth – Trash/debris accumulation
– Unsanitary conditions (animals) – Storage of junk, materials and/or inoperable vehicles
– High weeds – Trash/debris
– Open doors and windows (unboarded) – Rats and/or mice
– Needs to be cleaned and gutted – House not gutted
– Rats or mice observed – Rodent droppings observed
– Rodent burrows observed – Trash/flowerpots holding water

When are property owners going to be held to account?

Mass Demolition

Hmmm… looks like a certain university is aiming to demolish a whole neighborhood. Well, not quite, but 21 houses.

Housing Conservation District Review Committee
Agenda
10 a.m. June 25, 2007
Room 7E07, 7th Floor, City Hall

NEW BUSINESS:

Gert Town
947 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

934 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4921 Dixon St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this ranch-style single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4937 Dixon St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7231 Dixon St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this contemporary commercial building to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4816 Drexel Dr. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this ranch-style single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4836 Drexel Dr. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7200 Drexel Dr. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this contemporary commercial building to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4824 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4836 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4916 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

4934 Howard Ave. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

5004 Howard Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

1003 S. Clark St. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this altered single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

910 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

922 S. Cortez St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this altered Arts-and-Crafts style bungalow to be replaced with a vacant lot.

943 S. Telemachus St. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this workman’s cottage to be replaced with a vacant lot.

965 S. Telemachus St. — Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

971 S. Telemachus St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7440 Stroelitz St. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this altered single-family residence to be replaced with a vacant lot.

7940 Washington Ave. – Owner Xavier University has applied to demolish this raised basement altered Neoclassical Revival house to be replaced with a vacant lot.

Squandered Heritage has pictures.

Update: These demolitions were all approved at the HCDRC meeting on July 23.

Adjudication Notices

On Sunday, April 22nd, I noticed a number of orange notices posted on houses on Bienville, some on the 3000 block, some on the 3200 block.

3028 Bienville

Upon closer inspection I saw they were notices of adjudication hearings. I don’t know when they went up, but the hearing was scheduled for the next day, Monday, April 23rd. (That’s today.)

Notice of Hearing

click to enlarge

As I was taking this picture some people rolled up in a truck to take a look at another one of the houses with a notice on it. I got to talking with them. They said their friend was the owner and that he asked them to consider purchasing the house, presumably to rehab and rent. They asked me questions about the neighborhood, including a very odd question about the trailer site across the way: “Is it mixed?” What kind of question is that? Do they think FEMA is maintaining racially segregated trailer parks?

We desperately need someone to start fixing up houses in our neighborhood. The majority are still vacant. Some haven’t been touched since the Federal Flood.

But as much as I hate to say it, these people did not inspire confidence. I got the feeling that they would invest as little as possible in the house and rent it for as high a price as possible. I could tell as they looked around they though this was a slum ghetto. Our area was a little rough before Katrina but now I have the feeling it’s going to go down the toilet.

Properties on Notice

According to a story in the Times-Picayune:

New Orleans officials Monday said they have started handing out notices to owners of any property deemed to be an “imminent health threat,” giving them 30 business days to clean up the sites before the city sends in crews to demolish or gut delinquent buildings.

Someone sent me a listing of some properties in a couple of Excel files. I took the addresses in one file and threw them up on a map.

If you click on a dot you’ll get more info — much of which is inscrutable, but some of which makes sense, like if the property is targeted for gutting or demolition.

For what it’s worth, I believe it’s long past time the city moved to doing something about hazardous properties. Buildings that are in imminent danger of collapse should be torn down. But at the same time, I’m so used to the city bungling things that I think we have to keep a close eye on this process. I hope this helps.

Please note: The file I used listed only 186 addresses, though the article cites 267 properties. I don’t know how to explain the disparity. This map should not be considered exhaustive or authoritative.

Update: Here’s a map which lists the 20 properties in my zip code (70119) — most of which were not included in the previous map.

Perspective

A pair of photos by yours truly are featured on the op-ed page of the Times-Picayune today. The pictures depict a before and after scene on Bienville — a house, and then an empty lot where the house used to be.

Perspective

This is part of a series of “visual commentaries” that the T-P has been running since Katrina. The paper doesn’t seem to put these online, which is unfortunate, because they’re pretty interesting. So instead of putting a link here, I had to take a picture of the paper myself.

Thanks to Annette Sisco who saw these pictures here back in October and had the idea to feature them. In fact, at her suggestion, I revisited the lot earlier this month and shot the “after” picture again to more closely match the perspective of the “before” picture, and without the backhoe that was there in October. I think the piece is much stronger for it.

I also like the way it’s presented, without explanation. It doesn’t say “before and after” as I have here. You have to puzzle it out, take a moment to realize it is the same location, and then realize the house is gone, and wonder what happened.

Two for Tomorrow

Locals may want to note that tomorrow (Thursday, December 14) is the final day for public comment on the latest round of proposed FEMA demolitions. Nothing less is at stake here than the unique urban fabric of some of New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods. You can read more on the MCNO website, where you’ll find links to leave comments for FEMA.

Also on Thursday: City Council considers the question of Endymion’s return to Mid-City. You may have thought this was a done deal, that Endymion would follow the Uptown route again this year. After all, it’s been reported on the front page of the Times-Picayune more than once, replete with unfortunate comments which many of my neighbors found insulting. But the Council has the final say. Last month, a bunch of Mid-City neighbors were planning to attend the Council meeting to let their views be known, but the topic was postponed. Have people cooled off and forgotten about the issue, or will they turn out en masse tomorrow? I don’t know. Again, head over to mcno.org to read more, including a couple impassioned letters from my neighbors.

Slated for Demolition?

3319-21 Iberville Street [map]

Slated for Demolition?

This building has been proposed for demolition by FEMA. Since it’s in a historic district (Mid-City, my neighborhood) FEMA is “requesting the aid of the public in identifying alternatives to demolition.”

But how can we provide any such suggestions if we don’t know why the owner has requested demolition? The house appears to be in decent shape from the outside. Of course it was flooded, but so were all homes in the neighborhood. Perhaps the owner can’t afford to renovate?

Of course I’m only assuming the owner initiated the request. I’m not actually sure where the request originated. The notice from FEMA says that “the City of New Orleans has determined that many of the buildings severely damaged by the hurricanes are an imminent threat to public health and safety” and lists this as one of the buildings. The corner grocery that hasn’t been cleaned since the flood is not listed. The gov’t can be confusing sometimes.

Anyway, it doesn’t look like an “imminent threat to public health and safety” at first glance, but what do I know? I didn’t want to snoop too much on someone else’s property.

I don’t like the idea of tearing down old buildings that seem to be in decent shape. If this one goes, why not the whole block?

One of These Houses

They also say “For a list of the property addresses and to suggest specific alternatives to demolition, visit www.crt.state.la.us/culturalassets/fema106 (also listed below). This information will be accepted for a 15-day period beginning on November 30, 2006.”

Maybe I’ll check back in a couple days and post a comment. But what sort of “specific alternative to demolition” might I propose? How about, I don’t know, renovation? Is that specific enough? FEMA say: “Alternative proposals should include a source of funding for stabilization and/or repairs and the timeframe required to accomplish these actions.” Well, there are some grants available for historic hurricane damaged properties. Maybe I’ll suggest one of those. I’m just thinking out loud here.

Update: I posted the following comment on FEMA’s website:

I would like to suggest an alternative to demolition for 3319-21 Iberville Street, New Orleans LA 70119.

The specific alternative I would like to suggest is: renovation. As a source of funding for renovation, I’d like to suggest the Historic Building Recovery Grant Program. I believe this house would be eligible.

More info at
http://www.crt.state.la.us/hp/HBGrants.htm

Also, the owner should feel free to contact the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization if he or she needs help figuring out alternatives to demolition. Their website is at http://mcno.org/

This house is part of the distinctive housing stock of a national historic district. Please don’t tear it down.

Of course, I make this comment without full awareness of any structural problems the house may have. I merely observed from the street (I live two blocks away) that it looks to be in pretty good shape.

Update: I got the following message from FEMA on January 24th:

Mr. Everson,

Thank you for your response to our Public Notice Regarding Historic Review of Privately-Owned Residential Buildings Proposed for Demolition in Orleans Parish, Louisiana – Buildings Eligible for Listing on the National Register, posted on 11/30/2006. We appreciate your comments regarding suggested alternatives to demolition of 3319-21 Iberville Street, New Orleans, LA 70119. You will be pleased to learn that FEMA has removed this property from our demolition list, and it is therefore no longer part of our undertaking. We still encourage you to contact the property owner to either purchase the property or to advocate for the property’s renovation, as the building is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource to a historic district. Your suggestion of the Historic Building Grant Program as a source of funding can be pursued by the property owner if the program’s application deadline has not yet passed.

We sincerely appreciate your comments and suggestions. In carrying out our responsibilities under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, FEMA partners with the public and with preservation advocacy groups to identify alternatives to demolition and/or ways to mitigate the adverse effect caused by the demolition of historic properties. We encourage you to contact the Preservation Resource Center (PRC) for assistance with contacting the property owner and lobbying the owner to consider renovating the property. The PRC can be reached at: www.prcno.org or (504) 581-7032.

Sincerely,

Kathryn

Kathryn St. Clair
FEMA Historic Preservation Specialist

Here & Gone

I saw a house at 3215 Bienville just the other day. I noticed it because the doors were wide open and the moldering contents were lying in plain sight from the street. It was one of those houses that has sat untouched since the flood.

No

Gone

Now it’s gone. I noticed its absence this morning as I rode past on my bicycle, and it was a bit of a shock. And I wonder: How did this happen? I know it doesn’t take long to tear a small house down, but I’m wondering about the bureaucratic process. I live in a designated historic district; all demolitions have to go through a public review process. I get all the notices electronically and scan them to see if there’s anything in my neighborhood.

I’m not trying to suggest the owner did anything wrong here. Far from it. I logged onto VelocityHall and ascertained that a demolition permit was indeed obtained in early August. I’m just wondering why I didn’t see this coming.