A sea of red: as work continues, residents demand penalties for Provident RealtyApr 8th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: News
District Judge Robert Buckley ruled on March 31 that Provident Realty’s building permits were invalid, but construction has continued on the four 72-unit apartment complexes in St. Bernard Parish, defying current parish zoning ordinances, and infuriating opponents of the apartments.
These opponents, citizens of St. Bernard Parish, united by red shirts, flooded the council chambers, and made it clear the continuing debate and legal action over the construction would be the item of interest for the evening’s council meeting.
Resident Dana Austerman spoke on behalf of many members of the audience. Though scattered about the council chambers, the red shirts remained united not just in fashion, but in their disdain for the recent court order’s lack of efficacy and the parish’s unwillingness to enforce that order.
“Good evening President Taffaro, Council members, and Provident Reality, because I know they’re here,” said Austerman, a resident and named plaintiff in the lawsuit entitled “Château Laffite Homeowners Association et al vs. St. Bernard Parish Government.”
Austerman demanded to know what penalties Provident and its subcontractors would receive for building without the legal permits. No answer was given, even as “Provident realty continues to defy, disrespect, and ignore not only Judge Buckley, but each of you as our parish officials,” she said.
The council heard other statements of homes impacted by seismic damage from the construction equipment. If construction took place that could cause damage to surrounding structures, Provident’s would be obligate by law to monitor for damage. And though the construction took place, no seismic equipment of evaluations have been seen.
There were also statements admitted to the record of destruction of wetlands previously unaccounted for because the permits had been rushed through.
The council and Parish President Craig Taffaro have stated that re-issuing Provident Realty’s permits was necessary once the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development threatened the parish’s federal funding. When the permits were reissued, The Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits that account for half of the $60 million funding were extended.
Before that extension, the parish had changed the local zoning ordinances to effectively limit multi-family housing to areas zoned as R-3. The four apartment sites are not R-3.
At the council meeting, two public hearings were held for Summary No. 2726 and No. 2727. These repealed zoning amendments ordinances passed on December 19, 2009, that the parish council had passed unanimously.
Provident’s attorney has argued that passing the later ordinances in December 2009 could not supersede the initial permits given in October 2009.
Provident’s council surmised in a recent document, dated January 15, 2011, that “Provident was entitled to continue building on the construction sites for the four developments under the original permits because Provident commenced construction well before the permits’ expiration date.” Provident Realty’s document further stated, “And a refusal by the Parish to renew the permits would constitute a violation of the Consent Order and contempt of court.”
A such, the council moving to rescind the December 2009 ordinances was a necessary step in the legal debate, so the parish could not be held in contempt in the continuing civil proceedings.
With former residents repairing their homes after Katrina but not returning to them, there is an abundance of rental space in the parish. Locals have expressed concern that adding more rental property will only increase the parish’s rental market woes.
Though some have insinuated that the issue of the apartments coming to the parish is not solely economic, that the parish’s fears may be racially motivated as well.
Michael Bailey spoke at the meeting, addressing the allegation made in a recent New Orleans newspaper article claiming “racial tensions” were high in the community. Bailey believes that report was exaggerated. “To my knowledge there is no racial tension in the black community.”
But the question remains in the air as the debate moves forward, making the rental market in St. Bernard that much more complicated.
The Corps Report
An Army Corps of Engineers representative, Chris Gilmore, provided status on Corps construction sites. Those residents whose evenings have been interrupted by the late night concrete construction will be happy to hear the end is nigh. However, a number of sites still have six to eight weeks to look forward to.
Several council members, including Councilman Everhardt, inquired whether the remnant rock and construction materials could be purchased or donated to the parish, and possibly used to repair canals and help the oyster fisherman.
As for the dust coming off these sights, clogging roadways and obstructing motorists’ view of the traffic, the Corps has been notified again, but no direct response or initiatives were detailed.
The Corps representative reported on a proposal for installing light fixtures at those sites near highways and main roads, such as the one in Delacroix. However, the Corps will not cover the cost of electricity. Donated solar panels are a possibility, but if not, any utilities would be paid for by the parish. All projects should be complete for the June 1 deadline.
Other motions of interest:
• Two public hearings were executed, repealing the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, adopted in December 2009.
• Dr. Sherwood Gagliano presented on The Oyster Reef Restoration Program. Funded by the NOAA, the first reef on Grand Isle is now completed, and the St. Bernard project will begin soon. “What’s involved here is a true program…monumental in environmental protection and enhancement,” said Dr. Gagliano.
• The parish council amended the agenda, and introduced an emergency ordinance to move forward on demolition of the Delacroix School damaged in the recent tornado.
• Councilman Landry updated the council and the public on the construction of the hospital. The decking for the second and third floors will be erected on the site soon, and though recent storms had slowed construction “contractors are working overtime and weekends to make up time. Landry also reminded everyone of the August 6 job fair, where the public will learn what credentials are required for jobs at the hospital.
• The council approved all but one of the liquor and beer permits. The exception of V.J.’s Hollywood Bar, LLC, which was set-aside after Kevin Williams, a resident of the neighborhood the bar resides in, provided video evidence of frequent violations that the council will review further.
• Local Thomas Nunez once again brought the illegal construction of a bridge on the Bayou Terre Aux Boeufs to the council’s attention, and asked when the demolition of the bridge that obstructs the waterway for dozens of residents would begin. But aside from, “feeling his pain,” as Councilman Everhardt stated, patience was the only plan, because as Councilman Everhardt said, “government works slow.”
• The Council and President Taffaro publically recognized the efforts of Louis Pomes and his crew for the clean-up efforts after the Irish Italian Isleños Parade and the recent Crawfish festival. And though the work was as tough as it was commendable, Councilman Mike Ginart had concerns that such activities damaged post-Katrina construction. Taffaro responded: “With the assistance of Tulane University and a matching grant, the use of the former Village Square complex is being worked to eventually house festival events and parade staging.”
• Taffaro told the Council that efforts were underway to coordinate the logistics of school and emergency traffic plans given the recent influx of roadwork projects.
• Regarding Summary No. 2736, on slab removal, residents were informed that not all concrete slabs have to be removed. If locals want the slabs removed, they will be taken at no cost, but there will also be an opt-out policy for residents who want the slabs.
• It was proclaimed that April 25-30 is National Community Development Week.
• Council also proclaimed April as Fair Housing Month, in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Law.