Donaldsonville Council denies appeal of historic district ruling

Housebeforeafter

The photo on the left shows the property at the corner of Chetimatches and Claiborne street in Donaldsonville prior to renovations by the new owner. The photo at right shows improvements made up to a ruling by the city's Historic District Commission.

The Donaldsonville Council voted 3-1 to uphold a decision made by the city's Historic District Commission.

With Councilman Brent Landry absent during the Tuesday, June 27, 2017 regular meeting, the Council decided to support the ruling made by the Commission concerning a house being renovated by Scott Charleville.

Councilman Lauthaught Delaney ultimately made the motion to accept the recommendation of the Historic District Commission. Councilman Reginald Francis seconded the motion. Councilman Raymond Aucoin was the third vote in favor of the motion, while Councilman Charles Brown voted no.

The house, located at the corner of Chetimatches and Claiborne streets, was an adjudicated property purchased by Charleville in early 2016.

The owner has completed a considerable amount of renovation to the property, improving a blighted house in an area with several similarly neglected properties.

A point of contention, which repeatedly came up during the debate, was that a proper permit was not secured prior to work commencing.

Attorney Sid Marchand, who aided Charleville in presenting his side to the Council, maintained that the property has been transformed from a blighted one to a livable historic home.

Following a decision by the Historic District Commission on May 31, 2017, work on the property was ordered to be stopped.

Marchand asked for leniency on the Commission's ruling to maintain historically-accurate wooden windows, though a definite establishment date for the house was not made clear during the proceeding.

According to Charleville's estimation, it would cost approximately $19,000 to provide what the Commission ordered.

Furthermore, Marchand stated only an expert, upon close inspection, would be able to determine if the windows are period-specific.

Marchand said the property had been abandoned for more than 15 years. He provided several printed photographs of neighboring houses in various states of disrepair, just as the house in question had been prior to the start of renovation.

Marchand also argued vinyl windows and doors, like the ones used on Charleville's house, can be found throughout the historic district, often on even older buildings.

"Why us?" Marchand asked. "He's trying to do the right thing."

Marchand went on to say such scrutiny over repairs "discourages anybody from doing anything."

Marchand pointed out that Historic District Commission recommendations are not mandated and are handled on a case-by-case basis.

"Places are falling down and he's trying to do something constructive," Marchand said.

The Council recognized public comments on the matter, including from Carol Pooley, who said the recommendation stops progress.

"We have to think of the future of the city," she said.

Liz Eure, who is a Historic District Commissioner, stated that the Commission is carrying out what it is charged to do.

She said vinyl is not the same quality, and won't last as long.

"These are regulations, not guidelines," Eure added.

She said if the city loses its Historic District status, it would lose benefits such as tax incentives.

"People don't come here to see our Wal-Mart or Taco Bell," she asserted. "They come to see our history."

Going back and correcting issues after the fact "puts us in a bad light," she said.

"If we keep destroying it, we lose the whole district," she added.

Charleville asked about the state of neglect the property had been in previous years, to which Eure said it maintained its original structural features.

"It's not in the best of shape, but that doesn't make it any less historical," Eure said.

In another public comment, Concetta Ruggiero said she has noticed plenty of properties around the area for sale, and questioned the importance of tax credits.

"I don't see people coming here with much interest," she said. "This isn't something new. It's gone on at least 20 years."

She added people may have a desire to fix neglected properties, but placing too many restrictions in their way will only deter them.

In a closing statement, Marchand said he could not find an ordinance violated by Charleville.

"I can't find anything that says a wooden window is mandated," Marchand said.

Though absent, Councilman Brent Landry sent a letter to the Council recommending denying the appeal.

The motion to deny passed with a 3-1 vote.

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