Update: Tax assessor takes issue with information in this story.
The houses on Audubon Place, a private, gated street near Tulane University, are some of the grandest in the city — at least, they appear so from St. Charles Avenue, which is as close as most people can get.
But Audubon Place — the street itself — may be one of the biggest real-estate bargains in the city.
The street, owned by a neighborhood association, is valued at $500,000 — less than $3 per square foot. That’s cheaper than the city’s most noteworthy, decrepit properties.
And Audubon’s price per square foot is much lower than Trianon Plaza, a privately owned street in Marlyville-Fontainebleau. Trianon’s price per square foot? About $14.
The value of Audubon Place, set by Orleans Parish Assessor Errol Williams, is “obviously understated, given the location of Audubon, its prestige,” said Keith Hardie, a plaintiff in a years-long lawsuit to force the city to remove a fence blocking a nearby public street.
Not only is Audubon’s price per square foot much lower than Trianon’s, it’s just a fraction of the neighboring lots. If the Uptown street were priced at a similar rate as the one in Marlyville-Fontainebleau, Audubon Place would be an $8.85 million property.
Attorney Robert Jurisich, who represents street owner the Audubon Place Commission, said the current valuation is fair. “I think that valuation was determined in discussion with the assessor,” he said.
Unlike three other Uptown streets whose professed “private” status is unclear, Audubon Place is undoubtedly private property. But it apparently had never been taxed as one, so in 2012 Williams created a parcel for the 190,450-square foot street, assigned it the address 27777 Audubon Place, and set the value: $500,000.
That works out to just $2.63 per square foot, less than Lake Forest Plaza in eastern New Orleans, a vast empty lot with a crumbling movie theater. That site is valued at $3 per square foot. The debris-strewn Higgins Gate Apartments in Algiers is also worth $3 per square foot.
“As to the question of whether something is worth more or worth less, that’s a question for every appraiser,” Williams said in an interview with The Lens and Fox 8 News. “We thought we made a reasonable estimate on this particular piece of property,”.
He added that the valuation of Audubon Place could be explained, in part, by the fact that it is a street and will not be developed for any other use. “That’s the value of the street because you can’t use it for anything else at this point in time.”
Hardie doesn’t buy that reasoning. “Then why did they stick it to the people on Trianon?’” he asked. “That street can’t be improved upon either.”
The Trianon Plaza Homeowners Association purchased that street from the city in 2006 for $97,000. The 19,533-square-foot parcel is assessed at $272,380. That works out to $13.94 per square foot, five times higher than Audubon Place.
Williams did not respond to a request for comment on the disparity between Audubon and Trianon; spokesman Devin Johnson said the office will research how the streets’ values were reached.
Based on the current value, the annual tax bill for Audubon Place is $7,438.50, or $286 for each of the 26 residential properties on the street.
Trianon Plaza has been exempt from taxes; Johnson said last week that’s a mistake. Based on the current value, the tax bill for Trianon would be $4,052.20, or $579 for each of the street’s seven homes.
If Williams used the same square-foot price for Audubon as Trianon, its value would rise to $2.6 million. The tax bill would be nearly $39,500, more than $1,500 per property.
But that doesn’t account for the differences in the neighborhoods. Audubon Place is one of the most exclusive streets in the city, home to Saints owner Tom Benson and Advocate publisher John Georges. Homes there are worth $2 million to $5 million. Trianon’s houses are valued at $300,000 to $450,000.
Indeed, the assessor’s office places a higher value on the residential lots along Audubon Place than Trianon Plaza: $50 per square foot for residential land on Audubon, $15 on Trianon.
That means Trianon Plaza is valued at 93 percent of the adjacent residential land. If Audubon Place were valued at the same percentage, it would become much more valuable: $8.85 million.
That would mean about $132,000 in annual property taxes, or $5,000 per house.
“It would seem to me that the land value of the right-of-way should be approximately the same as the homes,” Hardie said. “So if that street was valued at something close to the value of the land under the homes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”