The former bank at night: Under city rules, every one of those neon rectangles is a sign - all of them illegal. photo: Karen Gadbois

Local bloggers are running an informal contest to see how long it takes before whatever subject that pops up turns into a conversation about food.

My bet is that a lot of discussions just as quickly turn into conversations about zoning enforcement.

Today’s topic – the old Whitney Bank building on Carrollton at the corner of Oak — goes both ways at once.

The landmark Emile Weil bank, back when it still looked like one.

The current tenant, a combatant in the burger wars, is something called Juicy D’s. Juicy D’s weapon of choice is an allegedly organic  ”steamed burger,” one that you can “eat guilty free,” according to the restaurant’s Facebook messaging.

OK a health food hamburger may be an oxymoron to some of us; it exists in my imagination on the same shelf as whole-wheat pasta. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Today’s meditation is not on pickles and onions, but the way the burger joint has garnished the bank, an Emile Weil original and designated historic landmark now owned by the Fidelity Homestead Association.

Neon highlights every window like eye-liner (to get away from hamburg imagery for a moment.) That makes the little red awnings, what … ? Eyelids?. And god knows what’s going on with the long horizontal neon rectangles up top — eyebrows? Frida Kahlo-style?

While the rules and regulations of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance are tough going, even for those of us who are fascinated by land use questions, it’s pretty clear that the building is in flagrant violation of the signage rules.

Section 12.1.2 of the city zoning ordinance defines a sign as including any “light” or other representation used as an “attention arrester.” And it goes on to specify that the size of a sign is measured as the “area within a line including the outer extremities of all the letters, figures, characters, and delineations, or within a line including the outer extremities of the framework, or background of the sign, whichever line includes the larger area.”

That means Juicy D’s is bedecked with nine giant floor-to-ceiling signs, not counting the eyelids and the eyebrows, which would bring the count closer to 20.

This is a pretty extreme departure from the signage that was approved by the City Planning Commission and the Historic Districts Landmark Commission when Juicy D’s was in the permitting stage. According to the paperwork, the awnings were legit but only two of them could be emblazoned with the Juicy D’s logo. The neon? No way!

The presence of a Vegas-style streetwalker on old-timey Carrollton at Oak has been brought to the attention of city officials. Kambium Buckner, a spokesperson for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, says the owner will be cited for the excessive signage.

And so, once again it seems the best laid plans are not always the best made. It remains to be seen if what went up will come down.

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...