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.

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