Mayor Mitch Landrieu not only opposes expanding the Historic District Landmark Commission's remit to regulate building and renovations, his vision for the city's preservation regime would actually shrink the area where you are required to seek special permission before demolishing structures.Well, you know how Mitch loves to "fight blight." But this is much more complicated as we get into the tricky boards and fiefs set up, ostensibly, to "preserve" neighborhoods.
Property owners in Hollygrove, Gert Town, most of the Lower 9th Ward, and parts of Broadmoor, Central City and the 7th Ward would be allowed to demolish houses and buildings on their land with no sign-off from the city required beyond a regular demolition permit.
Landrieu wants to get rid of the Neighborhood Conservation District and its committee tasked with assessing demolition applications. The committee lacks a technical staff and was, until a recent reform, considered to be represent a legally tenuous restriction on private property rights.So, yeah, as we've seen over and over again, in post-Katina New Orleans, the only motivation anyone ever has for clearing land use red tape is so that someone can build more nice things for rich people. It should come as little surprise that Mitch wants to expedite demolitions in "hot real estate markets" now.
The administration would like to limit the area where property owners need special demolition permits to historic districts, which are governed by the Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC).
However, the few existing historic districts cover only a small part of the city, mostly around the waterfront from the Irish Channel to Holy Cross in the Lower 9th Ward. Others are in Esplanade Ridge, Treme and Algiers Point.
Apart from the French Quarter, which is governed separately through the Vieux Carré Commission, the rest of the city operates outside the HDLC's control. If the Neighborhood Conservation District disappeared today, developers and property owners would have a free hand to demolish at will in hot real estate markets like Uptown and Mid-City.
But too often all these boards do is harass people. An HDLC inspector notices a transom out of place and suddenly a homeowner is ordered to affect an expensive cosmetic renovation. At a recent public forum on gentrification, LaToya Cantrell noted that "code enforcement" (she was politically careful not to use the words "historic preservation") may be a check on wholesale redevelopment, but it's also a pressure point on less wealthy residents.
While Cantrell — both as a Broadmoor neighborhood leader and a city council member — is an advocate for property maintenance (for example, as a proponent of stronger inspections of rental properties), she said that code-enforcement can also add to the pressure low-income residents feel to move out of gentrifying historic neighborhoods. As houses are bought up and renovated, new residents may complain about the conditions of occupied homes, and a visit from Code Enforcement officials could serve as additional pressure for the long-time residents to simply sell and move somewhere cheaper.So while Mitch's proposal is sure to generate a round of heated discussion between developers and preservationists, it doesn't really matter to residents squeezed for affordable housing who wins this particular fight. All they're arguing over is who gets to gentrify these neighborhoods and how.
“All of a sudden, somehow code enforcement is on them a little bit strong,” Cantrell said. “The 70-year-old is getting fines for her shutters, because the paint is peeling. They’re feeling the pressure.”