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.

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