Land Use

City bulldozes Gert Town neighborhood pool but without securing committee's OK

Workers on Monday prepare to haul off the demolished dome that once covered the Gert Town Pool. Photo by Karen Gadbois

By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

Ignoring a committee’s request for more information about redevelopment plans,  the Landrieu administration on Monday bulldozed the Gert Town Pool.

The pool, housed within a distinctive geodesic dome, was owned and, until Katrina, operated by the city on property owned by Xavier University.

Xavier representatives were not in attendance at the August 15th bi-monthly meeting of the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee, which handles demolition requests in a large swath of the city. And so the committee voted to defer the issue until the next meeting to allow time for Xavier to produce plans for the site, a common requirement when a permit for demolition is sought.

Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni defended the decision to ignore the committee, citing city code: “As a single-story, neither residential nor commercial accessory structure, Gert Town pool was demolished under Chapter 26-8(b) of the Municipal Code of the City of New Orleans.”

Upon closer inspection of the code it would seem that the administration was using an exemption that allows for non-reviewed demolition of back yard sheds and garages – but not commercial structures clearly visible from the street. The code defining the exemption states that it applies to: “Single-story structures that are not visible from the public right-of-way and/or not used for residential or commercial space.”

Berni did not explain why the city had not seen fit to invoke the code when it was unsuccessfully seeking permission from the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee to proceed directly to demolition.

The meeting agenda for the September 6 Neighborhood Conservation District Committee included the pool on its agenda.

A spokesman for Xavier had earlier responded to a request from The Lens saying the site would be part of the new Convocation Center and would either be a parking lot, tennis court or green space.


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About 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 to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Matt

    If this place was an “accessory structure,” what wouldn’t count as an accessory?

    This is just the Landrieu administration ignoring the law out of impatience. If they had just waited until the September 6th meeting, they likely would have gotten approval. Or they could have avoided this if they had simply planned ahead and submitted the structure to NCDC more than two weeks ahead of their obviously self-imposed deadline. Instead, they chose the third route: flout the law.

    I hesitate to think what will happen to this city’s historic building stock under a Landrieu administration if another hurricane moves through.

  • B

    Well said, Matt.

    It’s important to remember that the city is relying on an exception – the default in 26(a)(8)(1) is that ALL structures in the NCD SHALL be reviewed and approved by NCDC. So, significant questions about interpretation of the language in an exception should be resolved in favor of a requirement that the NCDC approve the application.

    I think one can also question whether this was a “single-story” structure within the meaning of the ordinance. The phrase appears to be included in the ordinance text as a rough proxy for height and size. The ordinance is clearly aimed at things like small, backyard sheds, and the height of the dome alone was higher than any general conception of being “one story high,” even using a generous New Orleans figure of, say, 15 feet per story.

    The exception appears to contain the only mention of “single-story” in the City Code. But there are several uses of “one story.” Section 1813.3.3 of the City Code, for example, appears to envision “one story” as a measure of height – “buildings not exceeding one story in height” – when talking about foundations. In the context of a proper foundation for a building, the term indicates a general limit in total building/wall height, not a focus on the division between floors.

    In 30.1377(b), “Sanitary facilities shall be located on the same floor or not more than one story away from any of the occupants it is intended to serve.” Again, the term is more about a measure of distance or height than about distinguishing between physically separate floors. If one floor in a boarding house was 50 feet high, the purpose of the ordinance would be frustrated. A person would have to climb “multiple stories” worth of stairs to get to the sanitary facility. The same conception of “one story” is found in 26-402(d).

    Finally, the exception’s phrasing about structures not visible from the right of way reinforces the sense that the exception is focused on structures that are not of significance to the surrounding streetscape, unlike the Gert Town Pool, which was a notable building in the neighborhood.

  • Matt

    Since the beginning of the Landrieu administration, the city has issued 16 accessory structure demolition permits within the area covered by the NCDC. 13 were residential, 3 were commercial. This represents a tiny, tiny fraction of all demolitions, and even more infintestimal fraction of all permits.

    Of the 13 residential ones, 8 were for garages, 3 were for sheds, and 2 were for other structures not described in the permit text. Under Nagin, the figures were similar.

    Of the three NCDC-excepted commercial accessory permits since May, 2010, one was for demolition of a kiosk at a gas station, one was for cleanup of land along the Lafitte Corridor with no actual structures, and the last was for an accessory structure at Oretha Castle Haley Elementary on North Robertson (that permit remains pending).

    Clearly, it is not just in the language of the NCDC law that small, out of the way buildings are anticipated to be demolished under this exception, it is also the case in practice.

  • Q

    Honestly, I’m surprised they didn’t burn it and act surprised.