Delachaise neighbors brace for next fight over shuttered apartments

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1900 Amelia St. (, unknown date)

The Delachaise Neighborhood Association applauded the city planning commission’s decision last month to effectively keep closed an apartment complex they view as a magnet for crime, but are concerned that the city council might overturn the decision next month.

The building at 1900 Amelia – blamed by neighbors in late 2008 for contributing to crime in the block that led to the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old girl – is now closed, and the property’s current zoning (for duplex-style individual houses) must be changed to allow the apartments to reopen. When Delachaise association members learned the owners (listed as “First Emanuel Homes of New Orleans”) were requesting that change before the city planning commission Oct. 12, they quickly mustered 180 signatures in opposition and showed up at the meeting, said Delachaise board member Gwynne Fallo.

“The new planning commission cared about two things, and two things only: What’s the zoning, and what do the neighbors say,” Fallo told the association at their meeting Tuesday night at the Columns hotel, praising the commissioners for listening to residents. “For years and years, that’s never been the priority.”

The commission unanimously decided to recommend against the zoning change, Fallo said, but the owners appealed to the city council. Discussion was slated for this past Thursday, Nov. 4, but the council postponed the matter to next month – which Fallo and other members worry gives the building’s owners time to lobby the council.

The three-story, 1970s-era apartment building now covered in grafitti is “totally out of character” in terms of both architecture and density with a block that is otherwise characterized by classic New Orleans houses, Fallo said, but neighbors’ primary concern is the crime they say the building attracted when it was open. Far better for the neighborhood, she said, would be for its owners to demolish the apartment building and build the houses there that the property is currently zoned for.

“This is not a not-in-my-backyard issue,” Fallo said. “This is: Been there, done that, and don’t want to go back.”

Colleen Bodet, another member of the Delachaise board, said she has lived in her home near the building for 13 years, used to hear gunshots from its direction several times a week. Since it closed, she said, the improvement in the corner of Amelia and Dryades has been dramatic.

On the day last month when she walked the neighborhood seeking signatures against its reopening, neighborhood children were nonchalantly playing around the building where it was formerly too dangerous, she said.

“Just being kids, playing in the street – that’s the way a neighborhood is supposed to be,” Bodet said. “You shouldn’t have to keep them stuffed up in a room so they’ll be safe.”

The zoning appeal for 1900 Amelia St. is set for the Dec. 16 meeting of the city council, which begins at 10 a.m. Fallo said the association will deliver copies of the 180-signature petition to each of the council members in advance, and will have a cadre of speakers lined up in opposition to the building’s reopening.

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