NEW ORLEANS - The city of New Orleans is continuing its crackdown on blight. But one property owner believes the fight has gone too far.
Burnell Cotlon said he's poured thousands of dollars into his Lower Ninth Ward property at Caffin Avenue and N. Galvez Street.
"There's great potential here," said Cotlon, who bought the property last June with visions of creating badly needed services in the area, like a barber shop and food store.
"We really need it. I live back here in the Lower Ninth Ward. I really believe in this here. I'm passionate about it," said Cotlon. "I was an M.P. in the U.S. Army. I proudly served my country. Now I'm out, and I want to serve my community."
But Cotlon said he's facing an uphill battle with city code enforcement.
In June, the city slapped him with the maximum blight fine of $500 a day for 30 days, a total of more than $15,000, because the property remains blighted. But Cotlon believes the city didn't give him enough time to comply with codes since he got building permits in March.
"It's way too quick of a time period. I could see if I had this building pre-Katrina and I've been sitting on top of it, but that's not my case. I just recently purchased this building, but I'm trying on a daily basis to bring this building back up," said Cotlon.
But city officials said that's not the case. Pura Bascos, director of code enforcement, said Cotlon has missed deadline after deadline. He has had five blight hearings since October, along with several extensions.
Bascos said the blight fine is part of the city's aggressive new strategy to eradicate blight.
"It's an incentive to have property owners bring their properties in compliance," said Bascos.
Bascos said Cotlon's progress hasn't been up to par. City records show no work was done on the property until March of this year, when Cotlon provided a the city with a signed contract to demolish the roof and the second floor, and got a building permit.
Since March, Cotlon has also begun constructing a new roof and cleared debris from inside the building. But city officials said, that's not enough.
"What we had asked for, as long as he had been able to show some substantial improvement, some substantial work from the time he obtained the permit, to hearing dates, and he showed a progress report, we would be happy to continue the case for him and move it forward," said Bascos.
Meanwhile, Cotlon said he has been slowed by financial limits, since he is paying for the project out of pocket. And he believes thousands of dollars in fines are holding him back from making positive progress in his neighborhood.
The city has granted Cotlon a 90-day extension to complete the roof, provide proof of financing and get a permit to renovate the building's interior. If he complies, his fines could be waived. If he doesn't, the city could demolish the property or send it to a sheriff's sale.