Update, April 10: Councilwoman Susan Guidry’s office says this matter will be deferred for two week and not taken up today.
Less than 24 hours after the City Planning Commission delivered an emphatic “no” to residents of Newcomb Boulevard in their effort to keep four blocks of the street a fenced-off cul de sac, an item on the agenda for tomorrow’s City Council meeting seeks to have the street made one-way.
With approval from the city’s Department of Public Works, eight years back residents blocked off the Freret Street end of the boulevard by installing the metal fence, evidently aspiring to the status enjoyed by Audubon Place, a mere block away and perhaps the city’s toniest gated neighborhood.
In December, after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that the Newcomb Boulevard closure was illegal, residents tried to purchase the street and make it private, the maneuver that was rejected Tuesday by the City Planning Commission.
With tomorrow’s council agenda item, residents are asking that before the fence comes down, the city “designate that traffic on Newcomb Boulevard, between St. Charles Avenue and Freret Street, shall move only one way in a westerly (lake) direction.”
Attorney Keith Hardie, a plaintiff in the suit to force removal of the fence, had this to say about the one-way gambit:
“The decision needs to be based on traffic engineering principles, not the whims of the Newcomb Boulevard residents or political interests of the administration [of Mayor Mitch Landrieu].”
Residents had argued that the fence was necessary to the safety of the street, while foes of the blocked-off roadway argued that, even if it had been erected legally, it constitutes an impediment to traffic flow.
Ted Le Clercq, who spoke in favor of the fence before the Planning Commission, called it a “traffic control device,” as had the Department of Public Works in approving the fence in 2006.
The turn of phrase did not sit well with planning Commissioner Craig Mitchell. He said the fence was “intimidating” to pedestrians and bikers who use the street.
Uptown resident Derek Huston, one of the original plaintiffs in the suit against the street closure, put it this way in comments before the Planning Commission: “We count on all our streets to be open.” Huston expressed frustration at the city’s failure to remove the fence three months after the appeal court ruling.
Commissioner Kelly Brown, who also voted to oppose sale of the street to residents, responded to their claim that if permitted to buy the street they would still allow pedestrian traffic on Newcomb Boulevard. “I don’t want to enjoy Newcomb Boulevard as a courtesy of the owners,” she said.
The issue before the City Council effectively will be decided by Councilwoman Susan Guidry, given that Newcomb Boulevard falls within her district and fellow Council members routinely defer to the district representative. It was placed on the agenda “by request” of the mayor.
The Lens sought confirmation that the issue would be heard and not deferred. Matthew Framer, her chief of staff, said late Wednesday afternoon that Guidry was still gathering information “and so has not yet determined whether it will go forward for a vote tomorrow.”
The Lens asked the mayor’s office when the city will comply with the judicial order to remove the fence, but no one responded.
This story was updated after publication with a comment from Guidry’s office.