Land Use

Neighbors prevail as city strips permit from Treme mansion's oversized pool house

Treme resident Stephen Kennedy built the fence to keep construction workers off his property as an illegally large pool house rose in a neighbor's yard. Photo by Karen Gadbois

By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

The last thing Treme resident Stephen Kennedy expected was to be handcuffed by the police in his own back yard.

But that’s exactly what happened as he built a fence along the property line separating his home from an oversized pool house that developer Tracy Williams was building on the lot next door.

What irked Kennedy was both the size of the construction project and the frequent incursion onto his lot by Williams and her work crew.

“I tried to keep her off my property. I put up a fence and she called the police,” says Kennedy. Williams had told police her fence-building neighbor was brandishing a weapon, Kennedy said.

It was an ugly moment in a neighborhood squabble that, in this instance, resulted in a rare victory – at least temporarily – for residents angered by a developer’s seeming immunity to city codes. On Monday, Dec. 12, city officials formally rescinded the building permits on Williams’ pool house.

Tracy Williams and co-investor David Taffet attended the BZA hearing together. Photo from BZA tape

The Kerlerec Street shotgun double that Kennedy and his wife, Glenda, call home has been in the family for generations. Earlier this year, Williams began to erect the two-story pool house alongside a grand, but rundown, North Prieur Street mansion she had acquired around the corner from the Kennedys.

Glenda Kennedy assumed it would be just a matter of time before city officials stepped in and put the kibosh on  construction that exceeded the scope of Williams’ permit. “I thought they would stop her and they never did,”  she said.

And so, for lack of city intervention, Stephen Kennedy began digging  post holes for his fence, and  Williams called the NOPD, claiming her neighbor was brandishing a shotgun. Police cuffed Kennedy but then found no gun.

Subsequent efforts by the Kennedys to bring the force of law to bear were unavailing. Stop-work orders were issued but then overridden by the city’s Department of Safety and Permits. Kelisha Garrett, an aide at the time to District C City Council member Kristin Giselson Palmer, was asked to take a look at the pool house but simply bounced the Kennedys back to Safety and Permits. The aide, no longer with Giselson Palmer, has since confirmed having a business relationship with the developer, but insists she was only following protocol in referring the Kennedys back to Safety and Permits.

After meeting rebuff from Safety and Permits, the Kennedys appealed to the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

Williams has bought and restored several properties in the Treme area and is a well-connected host of political fundraisers, says neighbor and Treme resident Will Germain. And the mansion at 1425 N. Prieur Street was a property of consequence: the childhood home of New Orleans artist Caroline Durieux. Preservationists considered its restoration a plus for the area.

But at Monday’s hearing, Williams did herself  no favors. She described Safety and Permits dismissively, calling it an agency that comes and “looks at your property to make sure it is safe and then gives you a permit.”

David Taffet, Williams’ partner in the Prieur Street investment, had flown down from the Philadelphia area for the BZA hearing, but the Kennedys had allies as well. Several neighbors lined up to testify – some waiting more than seven hours to address the board.

Williams apparently had made enemies of people living near her other properties. They spoke of unpaid taxes and additional stop-work orders that were overridden.

At Monday’s hearing Williams gained support from testimony by Safety and Permits representative Ed Horan. The reason Williams had not previously been called before the Zoning Board was because her pool house was “not a substantial improvement,” Horan said. He called the work “just a repair.”

Stephen Kennedy countered by reading from a letter prepared by Johnny Odom, a city building inspector, who declared the project to be new construction, not a renovation. Pressed about the discrepancy, Horan said that Ann Duplessis, the deputy mayor whose purview includes Safety and Permits, had overridden that judgment and allowed construction to continue. City Hall spokesman Ryan Berni declined to make Duplessis available for comment.

The building was in fact smaller than what was there previously, Williams testified, all the while scrolling on her smart phone as though in search of a way out of the corner she was painting herself into.

Not so, said neighbor after neighbor.  And as proof, they simply cited the original application Williams filed to the Historic District Landmarks Commission. It included a photo of the structure Williams proposed to “repair”, a squat one-story cinderblock shed measuring 10 feet by 18 feet.  The application, as approved, allowed for general repairs and replacement with a request for a dry bar with no water, sink or drain.

Williams responded by insisting that the information on her application was incorrect. The original structure could sleep five and included a Jacuzzi, she said.

Rising to Williams’ defense, Taffet played for time, contending that the board had no right to hear the issue so fast on the heels of the Oct. 7 letter in which the city dismissed the Kennedys’ complaint and said construction could proceed.

The BZA decided otherwise and the pool house permits were rescinded.

Giselson Palmer, who has recently met with the Kennedys and other neighbors, issued a statement supporting neighborhood redevelopment but saying she was “thrilled” by the decision made by the BZA to rescind the flawed permits. She said she was “glad that the residents were heard.”

Asked what her next steps might be Williams responded with contempt for the BZA process. “The kangaroo court has spoken, the media circus is at play, and we will respond accordingly,” she said.

Elated by their victory, the Kennedys expressed delight with the BZA ruling but said they believe they will have to remain vigilant to be sure work doesn’t resume on the contested project – as it has before.

By their lights, Williams should be forced to tear down the two-story structure that now shadows their lawn because it was built without proper permits.

To make that happen, they fear they may have to go to court, and not just a kangaroo court, if that’s what the BZA proceeding turns out to have been.

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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 for Squandered Heritage. For her work with television reporter Lee Zurik exposing widespread misuse of city recovery funds — which led to guilty pleas in federal court — Gadbois won some of the highest honors in journalism, 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.

  • Tim G

    Rewrite. This story’s paragraphs are all out of order, with names being referenced before they are introduced (e.g. Duplessis). The juxtaposition of non-linear events also makes for a difficult read. Otherwise, keep up the great work!! Love the Lens.

  • Judy S.

    Good for the Kennedys and other neighborhood residents. It’s great when folks who are actually in the right prevail over those like Ms. Williams who use their (paid?) influence to get what they want.

  • J Nola

    TIM.G. what are you talking about??? Duplessis was mentioned once. The article flows just fine. Sounds like insider influence to me. Horror for the regular citizen and due process.

  • 4abetterNOLA

    Developer? Since she has no contractor license and no permits, I think Ms. Williams should be referred to as the “Jackleg Carpinter” rather than dignifying her as a “developer”.

  • More Kangaroos Please

    The city should investigate her other properties that were all shoddily built with a wink and a nod from “Safety and Permits”

  • NOLACitizen

    Does Ms. Williams/Platypus Management LLC even own the property where she is building the pool house? City Assessor’s office has it belonging to a different LLC than the 1425 property.

  • Kevin

    This is an on going problem with Safety and Permit! Until that office is cleaned out of the “Ed Horans and Johnny Odoms”, we will never find stopping these people as easy. This office doesn’t return for calls, allows for tons of illegal construction, and issues permits on whims. Tracey Williams has been under attack for her activity in the Treme neighborhood for years. She hires drug addicts, illegals, people down on their luck because she can quickly dispose of them. She does illegal evictions thru her relationship with certain officers, she gives tenants 20 minutes to leave. Very Illegal!!! She doesn’t pay workers, houses them in shady houses, and when she has abused them enough she kicks them to the curb. Since these people have very little protection she is able to dispose of them like “trash”. What are they going to do? They’re illegal! Sad. Ann Duplessis is corrupt as well, and just represents how New Orleans has not changed. Thank Goodness for all the people, citzens, that do the dirty work of getting our City back. We need to stop the madness of City Hall, and show them they work for us. Elect officials, and then hold them up to normal standards.

  • Kevin

    If you want to learn more about Tracey Williams google her under Tracey Williams Chicago, and see her many offenses there!!! Her crimes brought down an adler person who was helping her get away with the same stuff up there. Read all about her and her good friend Shirley, the organ from a church in New Orleans she stole, and her selling of property multiple times. All this info has been sent to our elected officials, and yet when there is a complaint they do nothing!!! Interesting…

  • JD

    You can clearly see from this google map view that the building to which she is rehabbing was a single story shanty.

  • Lestat

    All of these houses appear to be built on top of one another. Why would anyone want to live in a place where there are no yards, built 10 feet from a street that isn’t built large enough for 2 cars to pass, and under overhead wires where the view is trashed house’s and automobile’s. Not to mention police sirens and gunshots to serenade the homeowners during the day and at night.

  • Michael DeGeorge

    Our neighborhood has had similar issues with Ed Horan. He issues the permit first and asks questions later. S&P would be a much better department if he were to go.

  • MCM

    This smacks of political favoritism and pay for play. Saw a replay of the “Williams-Taffet” performance of TV the other day. This article didn’t capture their shrill tone and their desperate attempt to convince “rational” people they were telling the truth. Apparently Ann Duplessis, with her long experience in political office, didn’t bother to investigate who these people are. It’s not that hard to do – just google Tracy Williams Chicago and you can get all the background you need.