The Lake Terrace Shopping Center has found its way back before city officials again.
When The Lens and our partners at Fox 8 News first reported on the gutted and stagnant strip mall two months ago, developer DKM Acquisitions had taken $162,500 in taxpayer money but had nothing to show for it. Owner and sole employee Kenneth Charity declined to comment, but a city official overseeing the grant said Charity was waiting for a building permit from the city.
Charity wants to add a second story, nearly doubling the size of the building on Paris Avenue at Robert E. Lee Boulevard, which still bears stains from flood waters.
It has stood open to the elements since Katrina, and neighbors are tired of waiting for promised improvements. Further, other city officials see the site as a hazard.
City code enforcement officers held a hearing Tuesday, asking Charity to explain why the building shouldn’t be declared blighted and ordered demolished. Nine concerned and frustrated neighbors were there. A lawyer for the bank that loaned DKM money to buy the property was there to protect its investment. But Charity was not.
Gregory St. Angelo, lead counsel for First National Bank of Commerce successfully requested that the hearing be delayed for two months.
In an interview after the hearing, St. Angelo said the issue likely will be moot by then because he was told by city safety officials that a building permit would be issued shortly, letting Charity begin construction “soon.”
He said he had that promise in writing and offered to send the letter to The Lens, but he has not.
The taxpayer money given to Charity was provided through the city’s frequently criticized Economic Development Fund. The program is overseen by city official Thomas Nash, who said in January that the city was delaying Charity’s progess by holding up the permits.
However, The Lens obtained documents that show Charity was not providing necessary information to process the permits.
The city’s Safety and Permits records details how he was asked twice in June 2009 and once again in December for proof that the building was either above the flood elevation or that the renovation was not a substantial improvement, defined as being worth more than 150 percent of the pre-Katrina value.
Amelie Oriol from the nearby Oak Park Neighborhood Association was at the hearing as well as 8 other concerned residents. While they would prefer to see the retail strip mall returned to commerce, they are also concerned that the development as it stands now is a danger to the community.
Graffiti and makeshift ramps make it clear that it has attracted skateboarders; the existing small upstairs office appears – and smells – lived in.
The strip mall remains open to the elements with the entire interior cladding removed as well as exterior. The wood framed interior is gutted to the roof. The concerns of the neighbors are made more urgent by the opening of the Greater Gentilly High School nearby.
St. Angelo made repeated assurances that the site would be fenced in and construction would begin “soon.”