Land Use

Extreme caution: Handle with care—the billboard that is

In April, as city officials debated whether to allow its demolition, the shotgun beneath the billboard still bore some resemblance to a house. photo: Preservation Resource Center

In the words of Ryan Berni, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s director of communications, the city using “extreme caution” as it attempts the demolition of the Ninth Ward shotgun pictured above.

The ongoing demolition got some less than cautious assistance from Hurricane Isaac. photo: Karen Gadbois

Perceptive readers will be able to tell from the picture at right that Berni’s protective instincts are directed at the billboard, not the shotgun it squats over.

The house—at the foot of the bridge that lifts Claiborne Avenue over a railroad yard—has been doomed since April when the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee voted to approve its demolition. .

The discussion was brief, centering not on the historic value of the house but on the difficulty the committee was having in figuring out who owned it and whether FEMA funds could or should be used to tear it down.

A representative of the billboard company said they had no issue with demolition. They don’t own the house; they own the billboard which they purchased from the former (or is it the current?) owner of the house.

The problem that has inspired the city’s “extreme caution” is that the billboard company won’t sign off on a waiver in the event of  “inadvertent damage” to the sign during demolition.

Thus begins yet another round of the shell game that often ensues when you’re trying to determine who owns what in this town.

The listed owner of the property is “c/o The City of New Orleans,” which might signal that the city took it over for non-payment of taxes, but according to the city website no taxes are owed. And the billboard is in use so obviously someone owns something.

Don’t be fooled by the deteriorating condition of the house. As far as the tax assessor is concerned, the shotgun has risen in value by $900 for the year 2013, lifting the valuation to $6,200.

Hopefully the new assessment and the higher tax that it entails won’t be too much of a burden on top of the $17,000 the current owner—whoever that is— owes for code violations.

But never fear. “The FEMA demolition contractor is working to take down the property in a safe manner.” We have Berni’s word on it.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
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.

  • Elaine

    Welcome to the keystone incompetent compliance city!

  • Jenel

    Wow… drove past this yesterday and wondered if the billboard company know photo send the money to why doesn’t the city know who to take the money from? Why shouldn’t whoever inserting the billboard money pay the fines and for the demolition?

  • I live next door to this house. I spent the storm at a friend house afraid that this house would fall on mine. Luck would have it that it just collapsed on itself. My roomate (who has live on the block for 6 years) told me that the former owner tore off the original slate roof and never replaced it which is why the house is in the condition you see it. Anyway good example of incompetence all around the city, the property owner and I’m stuck living next to it.