A city-enforcement effort against T-shirt shops operating illegally in the French Quarter resulted in 17 shops being cited for non-compliance in recent months and being hauled before an administrative hearing officer this week.
The stores were cited for violating a portion of the city’s zoning ordinance that limits the kinds of clothing they can sell and whether they can display merchandise outside.
But even before the Wednesday hearings got underway, eight were put off until next month at the request of their attorneys. And an attorney for seven others arrived to say he had filed an appeal on their behalf with the Board of Zoning Adjustments just the day before.
Two came into compliance shortly after being cited.
Attorney Justin Schmidt represents the seven stores that moved their cases to the Board of Zoning Appeals, a tactic that shifts the matter from a city hearing officer to that public body. It also delays any action because they have to be added to that board’s docket.
He said the shops should be considered legal as a “nonconforming use” because they were doing business this way for decades before laws were established that restrict how they operate.
“They have been selling T-shirts for 30 years,” he told city officials at the hearing.
Each of the stores, he said, will be able to prove to the Board of Zoning Appeals that they should be grandfathered in and the citations tossed out.
He also said the “undue haste” in scheduling the hearings didn’t give his clients time to prepare. The shop owners were given just 15 days notice of the hearings, he said.
A key French Quarter advocate said if the shops are allowed to continue, the city has only itself to blame for ignoring the problems so long that they became acceptable.
“If, as Mr. Schmidt contends, these shops are grandfathered in, it’s only because of lax enforcement” said Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates, Inc.
Still, she was thankful for the recent effort, which resulted in 53 different properties being inspected.
“We’re grateful to the administration for holding these hearings, and holding people accountable to the rules and regulations that have been put in place to protect the Quarter and all neighborhoods,” she said.
Other shops changed the way they do business, rather than facing further hearings and possible fines.
For instance, John Dunn owner of Road Kill, at 903 Decatur St., provided photos to show how his shop us now in compliance after removing the unpermitted merchandise. His shop was permitted as a clothing store, but he was cited for selling souvenir shirts.