A new oversight structure for historic homes in much of Uptown and Carrollton easily moved forward to the New Orleans City Council for a final decision on Tuesday, after the City Planning Commission swiftly voted in favor of recommendations that have been pending for most of the year.
Demolitions through much of Uptown have long been governed by an agency now known as the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu has recommended consolidating that entity with the Historic District Landmarks Commission, eliminating what was largely a duplication of services. In February, a study committee of residents appointed by Landrieu laid out the details of how they believed the new HDLC oversight should function:
- The vast majority of Uptown and Carrollton should fall under the “partial” control of the HDLC, giving the commission scrutiny over demolition requests but nothing else.
- Property fronting St. Charles or South Carrollton avenues, however, would receive “full” control by the HDLC, so that any changes — demolition, construction or renovations — visible to the public would require HDLC approval.
In the full-control areas along St. Charles and South Carrollton avenues, nearly any work a homeowner performed on the exterior of a property — lighting, roofing, siding, or anything other than simple painting — would need a certificate from the HDLC, said the commission’s deputy director, Eleanor Burke. She noted that the St. Charles Avenue neighborhood association had polled their membership, and that all their residents were in favor of the tighter controls.
“They were all unanimously in favor of full control, recognizing the significance of the St. Charles Avenue historic corridor,” Burke said.
For non-controversial demolition requests in the rest of the neighborhoods, however, the change will actually eliminate the time-consuming step of City Council approval. HDLC decisions are binding unless appealed to the City Council, whereas all NCDAC recommendations had to go to the City Council for a final decision afterward.
The City Planning Commission had already examined the proposal last month, and on Tuesday reviewed it again. No one spoke in opposition, and the only comments from the public were from Carol Gniady and Sandra Stokes of the Louisiana Landmarks Commission, urging stronger HDLC regulations within the neighborhoods.
Gniady warned that failing to regulate renovations could allow “bad things to happen to good houses.”
“From our standpoint, we feel that there could be a lot that could go wrong without the oversight we are advocating,” Gniady said. “Half of a house could be gone before you realize something really terrible could be going on.”
City Planning staff members said that the HDLC does not have enough employees to handle the workload that level of review would require, but Stokes said that only meant more staff should be added.
“These are prime neighborhoods. We’ve seen perfectly good houses to put up McMansions, and you’ve changed the character. The character that drew people there in the first place is now changed to something that can become Disney-like,” Stokes said. “We realize this is additional work for the staff, but we need to expand the staff to deal with this. It’s one of the most important preservation issues we’re going to face in this city.”
With no further comments from the public, the City Planning Commission voted unanimously to send the proposal to the City Council for final approval.
“In the words of that immortal city planner, Joni Mitchell,” said Commissioner Robert Steeg, “‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone?'”
A similar proposal for Mid-City and Parkview also passed on Tuesday, according to our sister site Mid-City Messenger.