A study committee designated by the city has voted to give both Mid-City and Parkview neighborhoods an official historic designation under the Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC), the City’s regulatory agency for local landmark commissions outside of the Vieux Carre.
After months of debate and input from impassioned neighbors, the committee on Monday night proposed separating the boundaries of the two neighborhoods to create two official historic districts, giving the HDLC partial control of both.
Should New Orleans City Council ultimately approve the proposals, the HDLC would have control over both demolitions and new construction in the Mid-City district, which would be defined in part by its National Register of Historic Places boundary. Under Monday’s proposal, the same organization would only have oversight over demolitions in the Parkview area.
“We’re looking to change the demolition review from a two-step process to a single-step process,” said C. Elliot Perkins, the executive director of the HDLC. “However, as part of process, there are all kinds things on the table.”
Included on the table is how closely the HDLC can monitor construction in certain neighborhoods. As it stands now, although both neighborhoods appear on the National Register of Historic Places, that designation has no impact on the neighborhood’s development or on regulation of demolition of historic properties.
Instead, property owners have to seek permission from the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee, as part of a two-step process that many residents say is marred by excessive red tape and overly controlling committee members.
In fact, the NCDAC has been criticized by both developers and preservationists, who say arbitrary decision-making gets in the way of the organization’s potential benefits to the city’s architecture. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is among many who want to dismantle the organization, instead handing over responsibilities to the HDLC.
That organization already regulates construction and renovation in certain areas of the city — most closely in the Irish Channel and the Lower Garden District, but also in the Garden District, City Council members have said.
Outside those areas, developers who disrespect the city’s history are contributing to “death by a thousand nicks” of its architectural landscape, City Councilwoman Stacy Head said last year.
On Monday, not everyone at the Mid-City/Parkview Study Committee meeting saw eye-to-eye with Head, or other outspoken supporters in favoring strict preservation of historic swaths of land. In fact, even polls shared by neighborhood groups, including the Parkview Neighborhood Association, showed that among the residents surveyed, roughly half supported no jurisdiction at all over the neighborhood.
A distrust of government oversight on personal property was a frequent topic of conversation during Monday’s meeting, as many said the NCDAC process had so deterred homeowners that they didn’t want any regulation at all, not even under a new organization.
“Once the door is cracked, government runs in. That’s what’s wrong with the country today and that’s what’s wrong with the city today,” said Nick Nelson, a resident who said he lives on North Jeff Davis Parkway. “It sounds like it’s already planned we’re going to have a historic district whether we want one or not. To me, it looks like putting the cart before the horse.”
On the flip side of the coin, however, other residents argued that no oversight at all was a dangerous proposition, paving the way for loosely regulated demolitions, potentially decreasing property value and neighborhood integrity in the process.
“Your block could be changed forever,” said Debra Voelker, another Mid-City resident. “That is the reality of what can happen.”
Ultimately, committee members came to a compromise, separating out neighborhoods that had residents with seemingly different opinions of how to proceed in terms of historic district oversight. Among them was corporate attorney Quin Breland, who said a “more measured” approach was appropriate when given neighboring areas that desire different regulations.
“I’ve heard lots in support demo only, and not a lot who have supported higher than that,” Breland said about the Parkview residents. “Therefore I think this is a great first step. Maybe in the future, if a case warranted, we can suggest a higher level of oversight.”
Regardless of what this study committee decided, however, the final decision for the new neighborhoods is at least months away.
That’s because the committee still has to send its recommendation to the New Orleans City Planning Commission, which will review the proposal and make a recommendation to the New Orleans City Council, according to Eleanor Burke, the deputy director for the HDLC.
Only City Council has authority over whether a new district is created or not.
A separate committee was tasked with whether or not to create districts in Uptown neighborhoods. Earlier this month, it proposed two new districts to cover the Uptown and Carrollton areas.
Under that proposal, the HDLC would have control of only demolitions with the exception of properties that front St. Charles and Carrollton avenues, where the commission would have full control. That proposal is also slated to go before the City Planning Commission.
“There is plenty of opportunity for public input during this process,” Burke said.