The proposed demolition of a century-old home on General Pershing just off Magazine — a point of contention for years between owners who want to tear it down and neighbors who want to see it renovated — was rejected again Monday afternoon for the third time in less than two years.
The owner of the property — Dr. Frank DellaCroce though a company called Triton Holdings Two LLC — bought the house in December, said attorney David Sherman. It has weathered fires and damage from exposure to the elements, and its poor condition has made it such a frequent target for vagrant squatters and drug dealers that the church and school on the block have called police to complain, Sherman said.
“Not only is the structure in deplorable condition, but over the years has been used and is being used as a shelter for the homeless and a venue for drug deals and drug usage — a crack house, if you will,” Sherman said before the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee, which handles demolitions.
Sherman says the owner is aware that some neighbors want to see it renovated as a home, but that it went to auction, and no one bid on it. Instead, the owner would like to tear it down for use as a “private garden,” in part because its blighted condition is a deterrent to attracting a new tenant to the owner’s commercial property on the front of that block of Magazine, said architect Nathaniel Parks.
A group of neighbors, however, disputed the account of the property. The house had tenants living in it until last year, shortly before the sale took place, said Travis Guilbeau, who lives on the same city block. It was also pulled from the auction shortly before the sale started, thwarting the group of residents who had offered Dellacroce $265,000 to buy it for a residential renovation, just over the $260,000 he himself paid for it, said Ann Farmer, another nearby neighbor.
One resident spoke in favor of the demolition, and the attorney for the project said he had a petition showing the names of 30 other supporters nearby. But Bob Smith and Julie Graybill, co-leaders of the Faubourg Marengo Neighborhood Association, said they were unaware such a petition even existed.
Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center said that her organization has invested $1.5 million into renovating homes in that neighborhood, some in far worse condition than 820 General Pershing. And that house in particular, neighbors agreed, is an important part of the balance between the commercial property on Magazine and the neighborhood just behind it.
“He spent $250,000 for a garden?” asked Graybill. “He’s going to inch his way into the commercial use of this property somehow.”
The NCDC members’ questions focused briefly on that plan for a garden as well. Will it be a commercial garden? asked member Helen Jones, to which Parks said no — only personal, private use.
“For whose private use is it?” asked Carrere, another NCDC member.
“The owner,” Parks replied.
“Where does the owner live in relationship to the garden?” Carrere said.
“The owner lives in Metairie,” Parks said.
The NCDC voted 5-2 to reject the demolition request, although Dellacroce can appeal their decision to the New Orleans City Council. In late 2012 and early 2013, both a similar request to tear down the building by its former owner and a related request for a zoning change to allow a parking lot there were rejected by city boards, and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said she would oppose those plans.
To read our live coverage of Tuesday’s meeting, which included approval for demolition of the former Frank’s steak house on Freret, see below.