NEW ORLEANS – A state appeals court has ruled that Lakeview duplexes that existed before Hurricane Katrina should be allowed to get permits to rebuild, reversing a district court decision and rejecting the city’s interpretation of a special Lakeview zoning ordinance.
The ruling comes after WWL-TV exposed the conflict over the Lakeview LRS-1 zoning ordinance and how it was preventing landlords who got Road Home Small Rental Property loans from fixing their units.
The zoning ordinance was enacted shortly after Hurricane Katrina to make sure Lakeview maintained its pre-storm residential density. It allowed owners of existing doubles or duplexes to repair, but there was confusion over whether a five-year deadline for demolishing and rebuilding a double also applied to repairs.
In 2011, the city’s then-director of Safety and Permits, Paul May, said the law was unclear and therefore no more permits for repairs to existing doubles would be granted.
Sue Spilsbury, an attorney who owns a double on Memphis Street, took the city to court, arguing that she was held up by delays with her Road Home Small Rental Repair loan and should not have been prevented from fixing a property that’s been a double, owned by her family, for decades.
The district court sided with the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal sided with Spilsbury, calling the BZA’s denial of a permit “arbitrary and capricious.”
Judge Rosemary Ledet wrote in the opinion that May had no right to interpret the law and that the language of LRS-1 should have been clear:
“Given the plain language of LRS-1, we find merit to the Plaintiffs’ argument that the five-year time period in which to apply for a permit applies only to owners of two-family dwellings who desire to demolish and rebuild the dwelling from Hurricane Katrina damage. … The City Council’s purpose in enacting this ordinance was to protect existing two-family dwellings. With this intent in mind, and because owners of two-family dwellings were not put on notice of a clear deadline to apply for renovation permits, we find that the Plaintiffs should have been granted a new permit in 2012.”
City Attorney Sharonda Williams responded to the ruling today: "The City is reviewing the impact of the Court’s decision and what necessary action is required.”