Sep 082016

The first Front Yard Initiative project was completed on Valmont Street off Freret in 2015 (Facebook/Urban Conservancy).

By Claire Byun
Special to Mid-City Messenger

Any New Orleaneans who would prefer greenways to pavement on their private property may be eligible for a new incentive from a local group.

The Front Yard Initiative, kicked off by Urban Conservancy, reimburses homeowners up to $1,250 to remove paving from their yards and replace it with greenery. Felice Lavergne, with Urban Conservancy, introduced the program to the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association at their general meeting Tuesday evening.

Lavergne said the initiative works to reduce “ugly” paving in front of homes around the city.

“It’s a community issue that affects stormwater drainage and safety, too,” Lavergne said.

The program was awarded several grants that officials will use to reimburse homeowners who remove the concrete and paving on their private property. Though paving more than 40 percent of a front or side lawn is now illegal in New Orleans – according to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance – there’s no permit needed to pave a yard. The practice is still widespread, but Urban Conservancy wants to stop the spread, Lavergne said.

Many homeowners choose to pave over grass to add more parking, but that prevents stormwater from draining and creates flooding, Lavergne said. The rub is convincing homeowners to remove that concret for greenery.

“If your pavement is already grandfathered it, it’s hard for people to want to take it out,” Lavergne said.

Fortunately, the group has monetary backing for their cause. Urban Conservancy will pay eligible homeowners $2.50 per square foot of paving removed up to 500 square feet – a total $1,250 at most.The program also has a list of certified engineers and landscape architects who can help remove and replace paving.

Gloria Martin, FSJNA member, said she likes the idea of adding more greenery to New Orleans – especially since it helps replace foliage destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“We need something like this,” Martin said.

The initiative was introduced right after the FSJNA heard from Susannah Burley, founder of the Sustaining Our Urban Landscape organization. SOUL seeks to add more than one million trees across New Orleans to replenish centuries of deforestation.

Burley asked FSJNA members to consider creating a committee focusing on tree replenishment in the community, and that committee would join other neighborhoods for her pilot project. Algiers, Algiers Point and Broadmoor neighborhood associations have already agreed to the initiative, Burley said.

The addition of more greenspace – including trees and bushes – would not only improve the appearance of New Orleans but create better stormwater drainage across the city, Lavergne said. Since concrete does not allow rain to filter into soil, the water pools and creates flooding troubles.
Excess water also runs into the street and storm sewer systems, which then leads to more street flooding and sewer backups, increased pressure on infrastructure, more runoff pollutants entering waterways, and increased subsidence, according to Urban Conservancy.

Hopefully, some of the city’s concrete will be replaced with plants, flowers and possibly trees with the help of Front Yard Initiative, Lavergne said.

“There’s definitely solutions for everyone,” she added.

To learn more about the initiative, or to apply, visit http://www.urbanconservancy.org/project/fyi/.

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