John Howell Sr. Editorial 1/23/2015

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Officials stop work on house next door; peace, quiet ensue

Gentrification came to an abrupt halt last Wednesday when a “Stop Work” order appeared on the property next door where hard-charging construction workers had dismantled the home of our former neighbor, Kim Yong-un. The dismantling was in preparation for the construction of a two-story home of almost 3,000 square feet on a 30 by 150 foot lot.

The problem was that the developer had not bothered to get a demolition permit to tear down the old, shotgun house on Laurel Street in New Orleans.

The developer had apparently sought to get around set aside restrictions for new construction by preserving a remnant of the old structure’s footprint. By Wednesday morning the workers had cleared out every stick of the old house’s roof, walls, studs, floors, joists, all of which were so riddled by old termite damage, the foreman told me, that he scrapped his plans for salvage. After they had scooped up all the scraps of debris with shovels and a Bobcat-type loader, there remained about 15 brick piers on which the old structure formerly sat. That, another foreman told us on a couple of occasions, would be preserved and incorporated into the new structure to be consistent with the zoning and code restrictions.

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Curiously, no permit was posted at the site. When one neighbor asked about them, the foreman assured him that they had all the necessary permits but that he didn’t know why they had not been posted.

The project on our west side follows one nearing completion on our east side. Frank, the owner who formerly lived there and who then rented the home for several years after moving to another neighborhood, returned to remodel the small, one-story house and add a new, two-story camelback. He plans to have it ready for the market in February. He’s done this several times since Katrina, finding old dilapidated houses and remodeling them for sale. I think of him as Frank the builder.

Frank the builder has a healthy respect for building restrictions if for no other reason that an inspector could make him tear away something already completed if it covered up something that should have been inspected before it was covered up. Frank’s take on the Stop Work Order is that developers have been skirting demolition permits by incorporating some shred of old structures into their new construction. Sounds familiar. The city’s code office has caught on and has started cracking down, and the developer will likely have to go back and prepare new plans, Frank said.

Meanwhile, the relative quiet of the last few days has been wonderfully calming.