Feb 032017

New Orleans City Study Committee’s suggested boundaries for the Parkview Local Historic District (in pink).

By Claire Byun

Parkview residents are asking to be removed from Historic District Landmarks Commission oversight, though though the New Orleans City Council will have the final vote.

The Parkview Neighborhood Association Board voted not to become a local historic district after an attempt to redefine demolition was brought to the board. Parkview members sent a letter to Paul Harang, director of City Council Relations, last month informing the council of their “unanimous” vote.

The park board argued that the city’s “recent last-minute attempt to expand the definition of ‘demolition’” would potentially strip property owners of rights to make certain changes to their property. The letter also voices frustration that the change was made after the HDLC’s public meetings and expands the reach of the committee’s “demolition-only” review process.

The demolition ordinance was withdrawn and not considered by City Council, Harang said in a letter to the neighborhood association. Regardless, Parkview residents voted to opt out of the new historic district, and the organization made their intent clear at Thursday’s Governmental Affairs Committee meeting.

“Our concerns regarding due process, property rights and the present process to change the definition of demolition was again discussed and it was agreed that a loss of trust in the process had irrevocably occurred at this time,” Parkview Board member Jack Monroe said in a letter.

Both the Historic District Study Committee and the City Planning Commission recommended partial control with demolition review oversight for the Parkview district. According to city code, demolition is defined as “complete or constructive removal by an applicant of a building on any site.”

C. Elliot Perkins, executive director of the HDLC, said Thursday the “constructive removal” code gives city staff the ability to judge the percentage of building fabric being removed and whether the character and essence of the building will be maintained.

“That is a more discretionary evaluation, and it leaves it open to the staff of the commission,” Perkins said.

Regardless, the Parkview board’s decision remains. Jamie Hill, president of the neighborhood board, told the Governmental Affairs Committee she appreciates the assistance of city staff and remains “in talks” with administration.

But that doesn’t change the “unanimous” vote by the association, she said.

“That may not be a permanent decision, but until clarity about that definition, and how it was changed, and how to move forward becomes clear, we’re very much against being a part of HDLC at this time,” Hill said.

The council voted to approve the creation of Mid-City’s district and the Parkview Local Historic District, as proposed by the Historic Preservation Study Committee, at a December meeting. That vote came after several months of deferral, though an August public meeting drew much praise for the creation of historic districts in Uptown, Mid-City and Parkview.

The HDLC is, in effect, taking over properties ruled by the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee which was questionably established and placed under city council rule, Stacy Head, Councilmember-at-Large, said. Thursday’s meeting marked the beginning of a series of educational efforts directed at informing the public on HDLC.

“Today is our effort to begin to educate the public about changes in properties, changes in law in the city, and how the HDLC could impact their properties and their neighborhood,” Head said.

City administration agreed to a proposal that would change certain boundaries from NCDAC to HDLC control, said Eleanor Burke, deputy director for the HDLC. The plan included taking the existing districts and turning them into HDLC partial control districts, which would review demolition only.

After considering reports and surveys submitted by a review committee tasked with scrutinizing the proposal’s feasibility, the City Planning Commission in late September voted that the designations should be created, and the Historic District Landmarks Commission should be given limited oversight in both areas.

Specifically, the commission decided homeowners in Mid-City and Parkview neighborhoods should have to seek permission from the HDLC only before tearing down buildings.

It was one of several options residents considered when giving input about what level of control they’d like over development in their areas. Other options would be to allow the HDLC oversight over new buildings and renovations, too, or to not give the regulatory agency any control over either new construction or demolition at all.

City Council will vote on excluding Parkview at their next meeting, though Councilwoman Susan Guidry said the neighborhood association’s vote isn’t the end-all, be-all.

“The neighborhood organization may have voted to go out of it, but I don’t want them to think that’s a determining factor,” Guidry said. “There’s seven of us up here that have to vote on that.”

  10 Responses to “Parkview Neighborhood Association votes to opt out of HDLC control”

  1. No one in their right mind would submit to oversight by the New Orleans HDLC. It is ignorant and servile with no interest in historic New Orleans.

    • How do the HDLC not have interest in historic NO? That’s not rhetorical.

      • Well, they are not interested in historical monuments. Can you think of anything the HDLC has saved for us?

        • No, they are not interested in saving the four monuments slated for removal and placement in a museum because these monuments are symbols of White Supremacy, and Slavery and Racial Hatred and that is NOT what this city is about! Thank Gawd those blasted things are being taken down in time for the Tricentennial —

  2. Thank you for this very informative article.

  3. As a parkview resident, the association does not share my views. I was never notified or heard about a vote on this issue. Having some level of demolition protection is important in preserving the architecture that makes our neighborhood great

  4. Not all the residents of Parkview are in agreement with Parkview Neighborhood Association’s decision to opt out of ANY HDLC protection. Not all the residents in this neighborhood were notified of this meeting that PNA held at the time of the Christmas Party and were not there to vote, so how can the board say it was a unanimous vote? The board is putting this neighborhood in danger of investors buying properties to demolish to make way for larger buildings that might very well be turned into whole house short term rentals. This neighborhood is very desirable to many including investors due to the location and the numerous events and festivals. By not having any protection for the destruction of these older homes, the historic fabric of the neighborhood is greatly threatened. It is disheartening that this neighborhood association decided to make a huge decision for all the residents that many in the neighborhood are not even aware of or had a voice in.

  5. I went to plenty of the public meetings on this. It became obvious almost immediately that to most folks “HDLC = Full Control” and that was that. It never mattered how many times anyone tried to clarify that wasn’t what this was. It didn’t matter that NCDAC already existed and already had oversight on demolitions and that the change was supposed to make the process easier. It didn’t matter that City Council would still hear appeals if necessary. It didn’t matter what the definition was.

    Nope. Everyone had already made up their minds based on the letters “HDLC.” Because in New Orleans, HDLC = Full Control, and Full Control was bad, and no amount of “that’s not what we’re talking about” detail or explanation ever seemed to matter one bit.

    City should have taken a page out of the State GOP playbook. When everyone got mad at the Common Core, State GOP made a big show of giving it up, renamed it and kept the same standards…but the controversy went away because the name went away. Lessons learned.

  6. Mr. Gardner, that is indeed unfortunate and we believe the City failed in getting the word out as well. The City is responsible in this type of process for reaching out to the public and following public open meeting law. This is why the Board and neighbors made a large effort to try and advise to everyone in Parkview that the City administration was engaging in a process to move neighborhoods from Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee (NCDAC) control to the City’s department of Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC) oversight by creating new local historic districts. We share your concern about outreach. In fact, Parkview found out from someone in the Mid City neighborhood organization about the HDLC efforts, because the City administration and HDLC Study Committee made no real effort to reach out to the citizens in the potential new districts. In fact only one person made it to the first HDLC Study Committee meeting because no one knew about it! When that person complained, they were told the Committee had met the law with regard to notifying the citizens.

    In our neighborhood, we sent out emails, created a Facebook page for postings, flyers were hand-delivered, and yard signs were posted to let people know about the HDLC process because we, too, wanted as many people as possible to know. In fact, it was the Board who requested that the HDLC send someone, preferably the Director, out to answer questions about what was going on. It was a 2+ hour meeting where over sixty people were there and asked every question possible. It was at that meeting in March that we decided to become a local historic district with demolition only (whole house) under the HDLC because Elliott Perkins made it clear to everyone that it would be for DEMOLITION ONLY – WHOLE HOUSE. This was even after a survey and a vote showed that a majority wanted “no control”. But because Mr. Perkins reassured everyone that no additions, changes, replacing windows or doors, or removing siding and walls for an addition, or replacing a roof, etc, would not be controlled, we agreed that demolition review of anyone wanting to bulldoze or tear down a whole house was acceptable. There were a lot of very upset residents who were concerned that the HDLC would take this little bit of control and add more later, and apparently we should have listened.

    Cherie, sadly it is not any of the Parkview residents and your neighbors (the ones who agree with you and the ones who don’t agree) or our Board that is creating this problem. Many of your neighbors were for demolition of whole house review. You’re right, there were 2-3 people who were concerned about New Construction and asked a lot of questions, but Mr. Perkins brought up points about why it couldn’t be used to enforce “taste” choices, etc. Lots of folks brought up their horror stories dealing with the HDLC, others how they were concerned that someone could buy a house and then bulldoze it down. Your neighbors and this neighborhood have a wide mix of people, with all kinds of strong opinions and there was nothing about the HDLC question and answer session that showed anything other than people’s very real concerns about maintaining their rights as property owners and also ensuring that a whole house could not be demolished without review.

    The problem is not the people you live around, or the citizens who are justifiably trying to figure out the HDLC historic district creation process and trying to make good decisions for themselves and their neighbors, whether they are poor, on a fixed income, middle-class, retired, well-off. It’s the City, specifically the HDLC.

    Why Parkview is not joining the HDLC at this time is that the HDLC and other City administrators and officials changed the definition of demolition after the fact. We’re opting out at this time because we found out that the HDLC were busy working behind the scenes to change the definition of demolition while the process of public outreach was in progress to create the new historic districts. We found out in December 2016 that a proposed Ordinance to Change the Definition of Demolition that drastically altered the definition of demolition from what we voted on was introduced. This Ordinance included: • Removal or restructuring of more than 50% of exterior walls as measured contiguously around the building; • Removal of more than 50% of roof as measured in plain view; • Removal, restructuring, or relocation of more than 25% of interior non load-bearing walls or any interior load-bearing walls; or • Modification of more than 50% of front facing openings unless such work is determined to be a restoration by the staff of the Historic District Landmarks Commission. *** Restructuring: Replacement of structural members with those of a different size or structural capacity.” This is not even close to the definition of demolition as presented and voted on by our residents in March 2016.

    Since this was introduced by Cm. Head as it was read into the record (someone watching the City Council video caught the Ordinance information and was as surprised as we were). This new definition was introduced at the last meeting of the City Council in 2016, just before the holidays and the City website said the deadline for the HDLC oversight to begin would be Jan 1, 2017.

    We had a conference call with Cm. Guidry, she brought Mr. Perkins to our December Parkview meeting in an urgent session to find out if this Ordinance could be stopped. Mr. Perkins essentially told us it would continue to move forward, so we took action and sent an official notification to the City that Parkview would not join the HDLC at this time, until such time we could ensure that the City could not force Parkview into the HDLC under a definition and control review we did not agree to and did not vote for.

    So, the City pulled the Ordinance and apologized and said it never should have happened. They let us know the Jan 1 deadline was an error and they would fix the website. They advised that it would never happen again while those same City administrators were on watch, but couldn’t reassure us this couldn’t happen again in the future. Let us know that they understood that our public trust had been lost and would honor our decision to opt out for now and would work with us in the future on the definition of demolition, and in the meantime we would still continue under the NCDAC as it was not going away immediately – we were told this by Mr. Perkins and Mr. Harang that there are other districts still set to be approached to join the HDLC. Where we left it: the Administration would still continue forward with the other 3 historic districts and would involve us in discussions when they returned to the demolition definition after finishing up with the other districts.

    This seemed a reasonable and important step in restoring good relations and trust and knowing we would be coming together to work on this; however….why is there always a however? We found out at the Government Affairs Committee (GAC) meeting on Feb 2, 2017, at which there was an HDLC education session (run by the HDLC) that Parkview was being moved forward into the HDLC even after we clearly opted out of the process for now, when we properly notified the City administration and the City Council members of our decision to opt out until the concerns were addressed, were assured that this would be honored, and that we would be included in any drafting of regulations, definitions, amendments, revisions, etc, that would affect our area in the way of oversight, review, time and money.

    However (there’s that word again) at the GAC meeting, Mr. Elliot Perkins of the HDLC gave a presentation designed to assuage the concerns of various neighborhoods concerning the proposed expansion of HDLC jurisdiction over areas currently under the NCDAC. Unfortunately, Mr. Perkins’ presentation raised more questions than it answered and underscored exactly what the Parkview neighborhood has been trying to avoid: undefined, unlimited discretion of HDLC to prevent alterations it deems not in “character” with buildings.

    PERKINS: “The current definition of demolition is the complete or constructive removal of a building. The piece that I think is important there is the constructive removal of the building…. It’s a more discretionary….It leaves in more open to the staff… to determine if this meets the standard for constructive removal.”

    GUIDRY: “And what are the factors that you look at for constructive removal.”

    PERKINS: “The percentage of building fabric being removed, and if the character and essence of the building is going to be retained.” (Links to the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting video

    It was also a surprise to learn that “constructive demolition” was on the table as being a term that was needing definition that allowed for “discretion”. I found in a search online constructive demolition is the term usually reserved for demolition by blight and/or neglect, yet that was amended to be removed from Uptown and Carrollton historic district creation at the Dec 2016 City Council meeting if I recall properly. And to creatively define it now, at the end of this process and without the input of the neighborhood as promised is not acceptable. And it’s safe to say they don’t know about the inclusion of something they specifically requested be removed.

    We don’t claim to know it all, and we want to do the right thing by all the people who will be affected by changes being made without any of our input. I want to also let you know that all of us on the Board have asked for the City administration and other parties to remain in touch and let us know next steps. Getting anyone to call back or follow up with us in any kind of meaningful way has been difficult. In the meantime, I have shown up to meetings to voice our concerns about the process and to note that Parkview has requested to Opt Out of the HDLC at this time, but hope to be able to continue to work with the City and be involved in any revisions to the definition(s) or discussions about “discretionary” review of “constructive demolition”, a term only recently under discussion (at the GAC meeting). We aren’t taking these actions lightly and we have put a lot of time and energy and worry into what we’re doing, and we all have jobs, we are volunteers and we are not legal experts and career politicians or City staffers. We urge everyone to write in their questions, not only to their own Council member, but to the HDLC staff, to the other Council members, to the City Planning Commission.

    We are willing and always have been to sit down at the table with the City and others to work it out. Not everyone is going to get what they want, but we’ve never tried to “force” a decision — we have done what we are supposed to do — protect the interests of the property owners who made it clear what type of control they wanted in the area. We have suggested that neighborhoods that are being “included” in the historic Parkview district footprint for the purposes of the HDLC process check out whether they can be separated out if they so choose, as we separated from Mid-City (as they have very different zoning and issues in their district).

    Last, I want to say that it is disheartening to those of us who have worked hard to keep the City honest to the decision and vote that was made, to make sure that the agreements are kept, to ensure our property owners continue to have a real voice and decision making-power, to stop the Administration from making arbitrary decisions without our input and approval, are then are accused of making huge decisions that did not consider the majority of people who participated throughout this process. It is too bad the City failed in its duty to reach out and educate the public. It’s clear that the actions by the City administration in introducing Ordinances to change the definition of demolition without notifying or soliciting input from anyone in the neighborhood, not once but twice, is more clearly a case where the City “decided to make a huge decision for all the residents that many in the neighborhood are not even aware of or had a voice in.”

    It is the City’s actions and unsettling subterfuges that unfortunately set the table to make it seem as if your neighbors are “doing this to you”. None of us are doing this to each other. There are many people who are still unaware that the HDLC was creating local historic districts, even now! Even in Parkview which is small and made a big effort to try and reach people since the City made no effort except what was required by law. This process, which the City is “managing the people”, has been irregular and flawed from the start and it is too bad. But worse is that the City made changes that were not agreed to, and whether by ineptitude or design has created a situation that causes us to point fingers at each other instead of who we should be pointing them at — the City administration. We should all be working together to make sure that we as citizens, tax payers and property owners, are properly represented.

  7. If the HDLC process was supposed to replace the NCDAC process, why on Earth doesn’t the definition of demolition simply follow the existing NCDAC criteria which has already been in place for years?

    All of these conversations about this proposal, and the only thing I’ve ever heard anyone ask about the NCDAC is “what is the NCDAC?”

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