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.