Blighted Kenner house, thorn in city’s side, moves closer to demolition _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The home at 50 Grenada in Kenner has been a code enforcement headache for city officials for 20 years. The building finally appears slated for demolition.

The vacant two-story house at 50 Grenada Drive in Kenner sits at the intersection of Gelpi Avenue like a hollow-eyed drunk on a corner bar stool: Neighbors do their best to pretend it’s not there and hope that one day they’ll be right.

However, after two decades of legal battles between its owners and the city, involving dozens of code enforcement citations, homeowners in Driftwood Park subdivision could be forgiven for thinking they won’t live to see the blighted house demolished.

“Everyone wants to see it come down,” Luis Schneider said Tuesday while taking a break from washing his car in front of his house a half block away.

Schneider said the solid gray house — now sporting three boarded-up front windows, missing roof shingles and rotted siding and balcony pillars — has been empty since before he moved into the neighborhood 11 years ago.

“It’s like a sore spot or a pain that won’t go away,” he said. “You end up just living with it — you know what I mean?”

But that could change in the coming weeks, now that the Louisiana Supreme Court has denied the property owners’ legal challenge to a demolition order passed by the Kenner City Council in April 2013.

The high court on Friday agreed with two lower courts that the city can demolish the house and put a lien on the property at the assessed value, which reportedly was $120,000 at the time the demolition was ordered.

The city’s battle with owners Placide and Jan Jumonville stretches back almost 20 years, after initial renovations to the property were abandoned and the city first took legal action in 1995.

Neighbors have called in 55 code violations related to the property since 2004, and Driftwood Park residents have continually pressed the city to do something about the property.

“Every time we have a civic association meeting and there are elected officials there, it comes up,” said Anne Villanueva, a member of the Driftwood Park Civic Association.

In February 2013, an inspection found exposed steel reinforcement bars, rotting siding, exposed roof decking and unsupported portions of the roof, which led to the demolition order two months later.

The Jumonvilles always paid their liens and fines on time, but council members accused them of taking a half-hearted approach to maintaining the property, which they said had become a public health and safety hazard.

Schneider said he has noticed sporadic bursts of upkeep over the years — broken windows boarded up, better lawn maintenance — though nothing that really brought meaningful change.

He said he even called about buying the house after a “For Sale” sign went up soon after he moved nearby in 2003, but he said the asking price was preposterously high, which he took as a sign that the couple wasn’t serious about selling.

“They were acting like it was a brand new house,” he said.

The Jumonvilles, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, also owned a house on nearby Martinique Avenue that was regularly cited for code violations before the city had it demolished in 2009.

Spurred by last week’s ruling, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni issued a news release Monday saying the “dangerous eyesore” would finally come down on his watch, though no date was given for the demolition. City spokesman Bob Ross said Tuesday that the details are still being ironed out.

District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud issued a statement lauding the idea that the building could soon be demolished and noting that many Driftwood residents have come to believe it might never come down.

But he said persistence and the council’s decision earlier this year to more than double the amount of money charged for demolitions should help the city to better combat blight.

He said a fourplex in the 3600 block of Martinique Avenue has gone through the demolition hearings process and that buildings on Connecticut Avenue and Trinidad Drive will soon be added to the list.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.