Dec 282016
 
The house at 506 Nashville photographed in June 2015, and the vacant lot in April 2016. (via Google maps)

The house at 506 Nashville photographed in June 2015, and the vacant lot in April 2016. (via Google maps)

The New Orleans City Council enforced a $42,195 fine this month for the destruction of a Nashville Avenue home that the owner blamed on bad weather, but that city officials attributed to the condition he had left the home in.

Scott Wolfe Jr. told the City Council that he had just begun a legal, permitted renovation of his family’s home at 506 Nashville Avenue when a storm in late December 2015 caused it to collapse.

“Severe weather which was documented by the New York Times and meteorologists caused the collapse of our home,” Wolfe said at the council’s Dec. 15 meeting. “It destroyed our home.”

The city’s Department of Safety and Permits called the loss of the home an unpermitted demolition, however, and fined Wolfe $42,195 for its destruction. Wolfe appealed that decision to the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee, which in October unanimously recommended dropping the entire fine against him.

At the December meeting of the City Council, however, Councilwoman Susan Guidry said that Wolfe had already stripped the house down to little more than the floor and front wall, which already technically crossed the line from a renovation into a demolition. With so little structure left, the destruction of the house was nearly inevitable, Guidry said.

“The only thing that remained of the house at the time of that storm was the front wall. The facade had basically nothing to hold it up,” Guidry said.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head concurred with Guidry, calling the facts “unequivocal” that the house was left in a condition that caused its demise.

“It is fundamental that you don’t take a roof off of a shotgun,” Head said. “… Putting the house in harm’s way allowed it to be demolished.”

Wolfe replied that the council was relying on the after-the-fact, faulty memories of neighbors in their decision, rather than the evidence he submitted in his engineering reports. The destruction of the house was a hardship to his family, not an advantage or any kind of intentional scheme, he said — and thus he should not be punished for it.

“If it was up for six weeks without a roof, without walls, no one reported it,” Wolfe said. “Our plans weren’t to destroy the home up to the facade. Our loan wasn’t to destroy the home up to the facade. It doesn’t make sense.”

One neighbor, Ed Bowden, told the Council that he personally witnessed the house being taken apart.

“They did take off the roof. They did take the house down to nothing but the floor and the facade,” Bowden said. “I don’t know about a storm. There was not one shingle blown off of my house. There was no house there. It was destructed.”

Bowden said neighbors didn’t report the ongoing demolition because it happens so frequently, and Guidry said the incident and the fine should serve as an example to other owners of historic properties.

“I feel like we’ve got to draw the line and hold contractors and people accountable for doing what is all too prevalent in the Uptown area,” Guidry said.

The council voted 6-0 to uphold the fine.

  • Dusk Lipton

    I’m confused. I live near this Nashville Avenue home. According to the city’s online map of historic districts, this home is not in a historic district. Not close. So, who determines (the City Council or some city official??) when a house NOT in a historic district cannot be demolished? And are there specific criteria listed somewhere that determine what an owner can do to his or her house? Thanks.

    • UptownMessenger

      The city has its own historic districts when it comes to demolition, and anyone who wants to tear down a property in those areas must receive permission. Starting in January, those questions will be governed by the Historic District Landmarks Commission for most of Uptown:
      http://www.nola.gov/hdlc/

      Until now, those same decisions were under the purview of the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee, an entity that is being replaced with the HDLC for mostly technical reasons. For background, you can read some of our coverage here, and follow the links back: http://uptownmessenger.com/2016/09/uptown-carrollton-historic-oversight-sails-to-city-council/

      • Dusk Lipton

        Thanks–I appreciate your taking the time to answer my question.

  • Uptowner

    Glad they are making an example out of this guy. People need to be held accountable so we can preserve what makes New Orleans special

  • Tom

    Historic Districts and Historical preservation are a joke as long a Landrieu is allowed to remove the history, and historic art, that he doesn’t like.

  • Kristine Froeba

    It’s long past time that city government enacted means to protect Uptown’s distinct historic houses. I applaud Guidry’s action, the City Council, and the Historic District Landmarks Commission.

    Hopefully, together, they can rid Uptown of the Tedesco type infestation that has not only destroyed dozens of darling architectural gems, but defiled even more.

  • Riley Neighbor

    Perhaps if he “donated” $5000 to his council person he could have saved himself $37,195. At least that is how things seem to work here in district B currently.