Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Paradox of the Moratorium

One of the notions in play in the debate over the VA/LSU Hospitals is the nature of the footprint for the two hospitals.  It's easy to dismiss the Lower Mid-City neighborhood that would be eliminated as hopelessly "blighted," unsighly, and beyond saving.

While there are a number of structures in the footprint in sore need of repair, it's worth looking at why some of them are still in a sad way over four years after Katrina.  In short, the City Council of New Orleans prevented the area from ever getting better, even if individuals sought to make it happen, as outlined in this piece from August 2008:

"People think this is a run-down area that is not recovering, but we have homeowners who want to renovate," says resident Bobbi Rogers. "They can't because there is a city moratorium on issuing building or demolition permits until a final decision is made." (New Orleans City Council Resolution 22944, dated December 6, 2007, prohibits the issuance of most demolition, building, renovation, or repair permits within the LSU-VA footprint for a period of one year or until the implementation of permanent land use measures.)

The idea of a government body barring a property owner from making lawful repairs to his or her home, rental property, or business for one year is disconcerting.  The 2007 footprint moratorium trapped the neighborhood in downtrodden state, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy of a neighborhood that could not be saved from its own decay.

It's unclear to me whether the moratorium, having passed its "one year" benchmark, technically remains in force given the perpetual uncertainty as to what could be conceived as "the implementation of permanent land use measures," i.e., finalization of hospital plans and the commencement of eminent domain and demolition processes.  Some properties within the footprint do appear to have been spruced up since December 2008, from what I can tell, but it's unclear whether cosmetic changes fall outside the moratorium's mandate.  It's something I plan to look into, and if you have any information as to the status of the moratorium - is it still being enforced by city permitting agencies? - please pass it along.

Here's the text of the ordinance - which ultimately passed unanimously on December 20, 2007, not on December 6, 2007 (the date it was originally intended to be addressed by the City Council):

CAL. NO. 26,814 - BY: COUNCILMEMBER HEAD (BY REQUEST) - An Ordinance to establish a temporary moratorium, to be entitled the Regional Medical District Redevelopment Moratorium, on the issuance of any building permits for construction, renovations, repairs, or for demolition of buildings in the area bounded by the west side of S. Claiborne Avenue between Tulane Avenue and Canal Street, the south side of Canal Street between S. Claiborne Avenue and S. Rocheblave Street, the east side of S. Rocheblave Street between Canal Street and Tulane Avenue, and the north side of Tulane Avenue between S. Rocheblave Street and S. Claiborne Avenue, excluding Square 556; and otherwise to provide with respect thereto. This moratorium shall not apply to permits needed for stabilization of properties that have been determined to be in danger of collapse and to projects previously approved by City Council ordinance or resolution of the Board of Zoning Adjustments. This ordinance shall supersede the provisions of Section 26-3 thru 26-7 of the Code of the City of New Orleans temporarily reassigning demolition review of properties within the above reference boundaries from the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC) to the City Council, in compliance with the review and waiver standards set forth herein.

Note that the record above, from the Council ordinance website, does not appear to mention a date.  Even if the moratorium has been lifted at this point, it nonetheless stands as yet another unfortunate step in the hospitals saga - a regrettable and unnecessary burden on the residents of Lower Mid-City.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009


One of the more surprising aspects of a stroll through the footprint is the occasional glimpse through the open - or missing - door of one of the vacant historic homes in the area.

Sometimes, the view inside is rather remarkable.  Though vacant and open to the elements, some of the interior spaces are in decent condition - dry, light, airy...and, with a little TLC, usable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

VA Footprint Suit - Hearing Today in CDC

As we've been noting, there's a hearing today before Judge Ethel Julien on whether Mayor Nagin violated the City Charter in agreeing to clear the proposed VA hospital footprint.

I plan to stop in at the hearing, if at all possible, for a bit.

Today's Times-Pic article on the hearing summarizes a few of the parties' arguments, including standing arguments by the city.  Of the four plaintiffs, the city objections toward two of the plaintiffs make sense - they don't live in the affected area, even if they do use the streets.  The city's objections to the other two, however - people who live in the footprint - seem borderline absurd.

Their homes stand to be razed if the agreement is followed.  That seems like a pretty clear "special interest" of potential harm to me.

UPDATE:  Arriving at 11:30, I found that the 10:30 a.m. start was but a hoped for starting point.  The hearing had not yet begun as of 12:10 p.m.  I did sit in on the oral arguments that precede the matter in Judge Julien's courtroom, though - a case involving the creation of a port in Nicaragua, the laying of fiber optic cables, res judicata, allegations of "fanciful" arguments, and a man named Mr. Wheelock.

Outside, in the hallway, a representative from the Committee to Re-open Charity chatted with supporters and speculated as to when the hearing on the demolition would actually get underway.

UPDATE 2Judge Julien permits the suit to go forward. 

UPDATE 3:  The city's attorney gives the post-hearing spin - an injunction was not granted freezing the footprint site.  Thus, in theory, the city can proceed with making the area "construction ready."  However, part of today's hearing, from what I understood, involved an attempt by the city to have the suit as a whole thrown out - and that did not happen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Channel 12

A documentary on Deutsches Haus and German-Americans in New Orleans is on local Channel 12 at the moment.

Quite interesting.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are you ready for "Construction Ready"?

This is going to be interesting.

Litigation to stop the city from acting under a 2007 memorandum of understanding to clear the 34-acre VA hospital footprint goes to court this Friday, October 23 in Civil District Court before Judge Ethel Julien.

The memorandum, agreed to by the Nagin administration, obligates the city:

"to demolish houses and businesses, remove water and sewage lines and tear up the pavement, while making surrounding streets ready for construction to begin. He also agreed that the city would pay as much as $5 million in penalties to the VA if the promises were not fulfilled by the November 2009 deadline."

Plaintiffs in the suit claim the move by Nagin's administration is a violation of the city charter.

While the VA did include money in its plans to move some structures out of the footprint, it only allocated $800,000.  And that amount was capped at an amount of $40,000 per house.  So only 15 structures could possibly have been funded (and only partially, at that).  Additionally, the house would have to be relocated in a vacant lot elsewhere in Mid-City.  According to a representative from the State of Louisiana's State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), only "one or two" homeowners are seriously trying to be moved given all the difficulties (age of structure, need to move streetcar lines, etc.) and costs involved.  The rest, she noted, "are just burnt out."

This suit represents one of the last possible efforts to halt demolition of the VA footprint, which is the more densely populated of the two footprints, the one with a greater portion of the 249 total structures in the combined footprints.

One of the absurdities of permitting this large-scale demolition proceed is that the Charity issue has not yet been resolved.  If renovating Charity were to become a viable part of the hospitals plan after arbitration, the "limited footprint" option proposed as an alternative would become tenable.  That option would not require the demolition of the presently planned VA footprint, as the entire plan, as drawn up by RMJM Hillier/FHL would shift toward the CBD, cost less, and take up less overall acreage in Lower Mid-City.  

Thus, permitting demolition on the VA footprint to proceed before the Charity reimbursement issue is resolved may result in the destruction of a dense swath of Lower Mid-City...that, at least as I understand it, might not be necessary for the fulfillment of the overall hospitals project.  There's also the fact that LSU, at least, has not finalized the funding necessary to complete their plans.

Here's a copy of the petition in the matter.  We plan to do our best to provide firsthand coverage of the opening hearing in the matter on Friday.

Old and New

310 S. Tonti Street

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009


Near the corner of S. Roman and Cleveland, I found another prime example of the toll that the shadow of eminent domain takes on the people and places of Lower Mid City.  This shotgun double on Cleveland, sporting a great new coat of paint and a few spruce touches since the storm, sits awaiting renters on one side.

As neighbors down S. Roman told me later, sitting out on their stoop: if they had known about the looming demolition, they wouldn't have moved into the neighborhood in the first place.   And they don't know why anyone would move into the neighborhood at this point knowing of that specter.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Flat Front

2405 Palmyra Street

The Last Oktoberfest

Deutsches Haus , a long time center of German-American heritage in New Orleans, hosts an annual Oktoberfest celebration in Lower Mid-City, replete with various German beers, a pleasant biergarten, and polka music.

The Cultural Center itself screens German films, including a few that played recently directed by the infamous yet talented Leni Reifenstahl.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Greek Revival

2412 Palymyra

In addition to the great brackets on the house in the foreground, it also features an interesting front entryway...which actually opens into a breezeway backed with a side gallery, similar, although not identical, to the false front door style popular in historic residences in Charleston, South Carolina (many of which feature what appears at first to be a full front door that actually leads immediately onto a side gallery ).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Outer Banks

The bands, bar games, barbecue, and happy hours would be silenced at Outer Banks bar. Under the proposed plan, the neighborhood joint at the corner of Palmyra and S. Tonti Streets would become part of a parking lot.

Gingerbread Trim

The residence of Charles A. Orleans, one of the last remaining Victorian mansions along Canal Street.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2420 Cleveland Avenue

Just before the rain began, I spoke with the occupant of this house - who declined to be photographed with her home - about her return following Katrina.  She arrived on September 14, 2005, just about two weeks after the storm had ravaged the neighborhood.  The site of her home, under the proposed plan, would become part of a large parking lot.

314 S. Miro Street

This property would become part of the VA Outpatient Center under the proposed plan.