After years of court battles, the proposed sale of Newcomb Boulevard between St. Charles Avenue and Freret Street is headed to the City Planning Commission in less than two weeks, and those who have fought to have the street reopened are hoping to rally public opinion to their side with a quickly organized campaign.
Newcomb Boulevard residents installed a fence at Freret Street in 2006 in an effort to reduce cut-through traffic on the street, which runs parallel to Broadway Street for about four blocks. Surrounding neighborhood groups challenged the legality of the fence, ultimately leading to a ruling by former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris in 2012 that its construction created an illegal donation of public property.
After that decision was upheld in appeals in 2013, city officials promised to remove the fence “without delay.” Nearly four months later, it remains in place, and city officials have said they are trying to avoid spending taxpayer dollars removing a structure that the Newcomb Boulevard Association will simply replace if it is successful in purchasing the street.
With the first hearing on that sale before the City Planning Commission scheduled for April 8, some of those who have led the legal fight against the fence are now seeking to engage a wider swath of the public. Keith Hardie Jr. has created a website, FreeNewcombBlvd.com, and a Facebook page (launched Sunday and showing 129 likes as of Wednesday morning) to promote it, and they are printing yard signs in hopes of further raising awareness of their efforts.
“Selling the street would validate the illegal and unconstitutional closure and permanently shift parking demand and traffic onto other area streets. Our grid system is one of the reasons New Orleans is known as a charming, walkable City. Traffic conditions on Newcomb Boulevard, before it was closed, were not significantly different from those on many streets, and certainly were not significant enough to require that the street be closed,” Hardie’s website argues. “Free Newcomb Boulevard and give it back to the citizens of New Orleans.”
The focus of the website is generating written public comment on the issue before Monday’s deadline, and then drawing attention to the planning commission’s April 8 hearing. The Planning Commission staff has not issued a report yet on the matter, and any recommendation made by the Planning Commission on April 8 will be forwarded to the City Council for a final decision at a later date.