By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

Jonas Johnson has a vision for Gert Town’s Zion City neighborhood.

Seeking city permission to continue using a vacant lot as a helicopter pad, Johnson on Thursday said  he would like to reinvigorate the area by creating an “aviation school” for underserved children. That would mean expanding operations from the vacant lot, in the 4200 block of Clio Street, to a nearby warehouse, a run-down building Johnson hopes to convert to classrooms.

A joint report Wednesday by The Lens in partnership with  FOX8 News disclosed that use of the property as a helipad violates the zoning code. On Thursday, Johnson landed and took off from the grassy vacant block in an attempt to demonstrate that noise levels, a source of neighborhood complaints, are reasonable.

Watch a version of this story from our partners at FOX8.

Paul May who, as head of the city’s Department of Safety and Permits, said Wednesday that the city would be serving Johnson with notice of a zoning violation, also showed up to watch the helicopter and left without comment.

The notice of violation was served, according to mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni.

The neighborhood, which contains both warehousing and residential property, was rezoned from “light industrial” to “residential” in 2004.  Johnson said he believed his use of the property for a “light industrial” purpose, such as the heliport,  was  “grandfathered in.”

Johnson contended that the rezoning was approved by then-District B Councilmember Renee Gill Pratt after Johnson refused to sell the property to Gill Pratt’s longtime lover, Mose Jefferson, now incarcerated for corruption.

According to Johnson, the City Planning Commission recommended denial of the zoning change, but Gill Pratt overrode the recommendation.

Gill Pratt, whose trial for racketeering resulted Thursday in a hung jury, could not be reached for comment on Johnson’s accusation. Calls to Jefferson’s lawyer were not immediately returned.

Despite the 2004 rezoning to residential use, Johnson operated a horse stable at the site and recently began operating the helipad.

Johnson said hereafter “we will follow rules and regulation.” He said he plans to seek a conditional-use permit for the helipad and then start the flight school.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...