BAKER — Efforts by city officials to clean up blighted properties in Baker ran into some resistance Tuesday as some residents protested having their properties on the condemnation list.
Five houses were listed under condemnations on the meeting agenda, four on Chamberlain Street and one on Buchanan Street. The city council voted unanimously to demolish the 3657 Buchanan St. house. The Chamberlain Street houses had only recently been inspected and classified as condemnable. A legal process will be necessary, including letters to the owners, before any of those houses could be torn down. That process was complete in the case of the Buchanan Street house, city attorney Ken Fabre said.
Pat McCallister-LeDuff, who, along with her husband Ernest LeDuff, owns one of the listed houses, located at 2150 Chamberlain in the historic Leland College area, argued that their property should not be on the city’s condemnation list.
The couple purchased the property in 2011 and have been working to restore the fire-damaged structure ever since. She listed some of the work that had been done, such as landscaping and some roofing. She found out an inspector had classified the house as condemnable after a report aired Friday on WBRZ-TV.
“That’s not right. We should have gotten a letter first,” she said.
Mayor Harold Rideau said a mistake was made in not sending the letter earlier and he had apologized to the LeDuffs.
“This is a pilot program started in my district,” councilman Pete Heine said. “There are properties all over Baker (that need to be renovated or torn down.) It’s not fair to people getting their properties appraised, because you know that they look at other houses in the neighborhood. We’re not trying to be the bad guys. We’re trying to protect homeowners.”
Only abandoned houses with no one living in them are the focus of the program, Rideau said. The program, he said, is designed to encourage homeowners to clean up their properties.
The LeDuff house was added to the list because the couple’s building permit had expired and the inspector classified the house as condemnable. No one lives in the house, which has a partial roof and no walls.
The LeDuffs promised to return to the next council meeting with a plan for their house and will apply for a new permit. They expect to finish the house in 2017.
Yolanda Vessel, a resident, argued that another house on Chamberlain, owned by Lee Jones, also should not be on the list. Vessel, who said Jones is now in a nursing home, argued the home is historic and should be preserved.
“Come back with a plan of how you are going to restore the house,” Rideau said.
In other business, the council went into a closed session to discuss a personnel matter pertaining to a former employee of the police department. The matter will be settled in court, but the details kept confidential at the request of the party involved, said Fabre, the city attorney.