Uptown residents say city is dragging feet on Newcomb Boulevard fence removal

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Residents who won a lawsuit to remove a fence blocking one end of Newcomb Boulevard in Uptown New Orleans have filed briefs in court arguing that the city is finding reasons to delay its removal.

“The city of New Orleans, rather than representing the right of the people of New Orleans to use a public street, is defending the illegal and unconstitutional privatization of Newcomb Boulevard for the exclusive benefit of a handful of the City’s most privileged residents,” wrote lawyers for two Uptown residents and neighborhood associations.

Courts have ruled that the fence, erected by the Newcomb Boulevard Association in 2006, illegally blocked a public street.

The final ruling came in late December, when an appeals court ordered the city to “remove all remaining obstructions” to the street. That hasn’t happened.

One of Tuesday’s filings asks an Orleans Parish Civil District judge to notify the appeals court that the city is violating that order. The other is a response to the city’s suggestion that it remove only part of the fence.

In the month since an appeals court ruled that the city must remove a fence across Newcomb Boulevard, the city has offered several reasons for not doing so.

In the month since an appeals court ruled that the city must remove a fence across Newcomb Boulevard, the city has offered several reasons for not doing so.

The filings describe the city’s shifting course of action since the appeals court ruled in December.

In early January, Adam Swensek, an assistant city attorney, wrote that the fence would be removed “without delay.” He said it could take a few days for the necessary work orders.

Two weeks later, Swensek wrote in an email that the city wanted a judge to say exactly how much of the fence had to be removed. In a telephone call, a judge agreed that only the part of the fence — the part obstructing the sidewalk and street — had to be removed.

Now, according to the filings, the city says the street must be converted to one-way traffic in order to deal with safety concerns.

One filing mocks supposed safety concerns of two-way traffic on Newcomb:

There is nothing in the voluminous record of this case to suggest that anyone had ever complained that the meeting of two cars in the middle of Newcomb Boulevard (an extremely common situation on many, if not most, two-way streets in Uptown New Orleans) posed a safety issue.”

In response to The Lens’ question about why the fence remains, city spokesman Tyler Gamble responded with the following statement, attributed to City Attorney Sharonda Williams: “The City is working with the Court and the parties to move forward with the removal of the fence and to ensure the intersection and adjacent streets remain safe for drivers.”

The city didn’t respond to The Lens’ request about Tuesday’s filings.

The fence has been the subject of a seven-year court fight. Even after the initial ruling, its removal has been on hold pending negotiations to allow the neighborhood association to buy the street.

Throughout the process, the city has been conscious of saving its own money, as well as that of Newcomb residents, many of whose properties are valued in the high six figures, according to the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office.

In asking the plaintiffs to agree to delay the fence removal, Swensek wrote in July 2013 that the neighborhood association probably would want to keep the fence if it were to buy the street.

Such a delay would “avoid needless expense by the city and … spare the Newcomb residents the cost of reconstructing the existing fence,” Swensek wrote.

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