Ordinance Passes Reforming HCDRC

St. Charles Ave. Deconstruction_0048

I just received an email from Stacy Head’s office announcing that an ordinance outlining a complete restructuring of the Historic Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC) was approved by City Council today. Notably, it was authored by all seven members of the City Council.

While working with Karen over at Squandered Heritage, I saw the horrors of this committee unfold over and over again. As she told me, “You have to see it to believe it.” It made me sick to see the complete disregard for the laws and principles governing procedures at the HCDRC. It made me focus on changing this committee.

A few examples of the bi-weekly massacres of due process:

1) Houses approved for demolition without plans submitted for redevelopment, part of the provisions in the ordinance governing the committee.

2) Public Notice was not posted on the houses on the agendas.

3) Some committee members would openly harrass the preservation minded representatives on the committee for their conservative decisions.

4) Agendas were often not posted for the required 3 days, or they would be incomplete.

5) The meetings were held in a tiny room up in Safety & Permits, unlike HDLC, they were never televised. There was no transparency in this commitee.

6) The Chair would often lose track of the motions on the table. I have even seen him attempt to backtrack on a vote which had been already been executed in a manner he found unsatisfactory.

7) We have seen them using old photos of properties and even taking up properties on their agenda which had already been demolished without their knowledge. Stale information seemed to rule.

8) Staff members are also the voting commission on the HCDRC. In a proper committee structure, staff should act as consult for a more independent commission, as it is with the HDLC.

The reform of the HCDRC has been something many preservationists have longed to see happen in New Orleans. Michelle Kimball started the ball rolling at the Preservation Resource Center (PRC). I sat down with her and we compared the City Code governing both the HDLC and HCDRC committee’s structures. Michelle consulted Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) about how narrow one should safely go on such committee structures. No, we would not want to go so far as to appoint Fred Faget, specifically, however we learned how to create an ordinance outlining a broad based committee that would include residents and experts in the pertinent fields related to the work of the committee. We submitted a draft to Councilwoman Head but it was some six months ago.

Regardless of how you feel about preservation and the issue of demolitions in the City, this reform is encouraging for all citizens because it sends a clear message in its unanimous authorship by City Council that small-time dictators at City Hall can’t continue to operate fiefdoms within their departments irregardless of the laws and procedures without the notice of the public. It’s sometimes easy to give up but I am learning to have some faith and patience in this process of reform post-K.

Neighborhood Conservation District Committee (NCDC) Ordinance. Thanks to RCS for putting this online for me as a link. And also to Karen for the cute photo of Fred, whom I adore.

Also of note regarding the haphazard management of demolitions at the City level, a lawsuit has been filed against the City of New Orleans for the erroneous demolition of the homes of some residents. The City has submitted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the representatives of the owners have submitted a motion for an extension. The hearing regarding the fate of this lawsuit is tomorrow, Friday, in Federal Court, Eastern District.

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