In a highly unusual move for a City Council member representing the city’s oldest neighborhoods, newly minted Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey on Thursday overruled a recommendation from the Historic District Landmarks Commission and approved the demolition of a property in Algiers Point.
Ramsey said she didn’t find the HDLC’s arguments in favor of retaining the Teche Street structure — that demolition would erode the streetscape and create a vast open space, among other reasons — sufficiently compelling to oppose the teardown.
The council voted 5-2 in favor of allowing the demolition, with Councilwomen Stacy Head and Susan Guidry casting the only votes in opposition.
Ramsey’s decision is, perhaps, an early indication of her stance on one of the key issues facing her district, which also includes the French Quarter, Bywater, Marigny and Treme.
Previous district representatives, such as Kristin Gisleson Palmer and Jackie Clarkson, were known for their dedication to preserving buildings, even ramshackle ones, in those areas.
It was so routine for Palmer to uphold the HDLC’s denials of demolition requests in the past four years that members of the Algiers Point Association assumed they wouldn’t need to attend Thursday’s meeting.
“In the past, if HDLC said a building isn’t eligible for demolition, then that’s what the City Council has done,” said Skip Gallagher, the group’s former president and current treasurer. “So we’ve been a little relaxed, if you will.”
LeRoy Phoenix Sr., pastor of the New Home Family Worship Center of Algiers and the owner of the building, went before the HDLC last month to request a permit to demolish the structure at Teche and Slidell streets.
The building was once used as a corner store and still maintains its historic corner entry and wraparound canopy.
It has been cited by the city for demolition by neglect, meaning that officials believed it had deteriorated so badly it might not be repairable.
Phoenix said the property should be razed because he can’t afford to maintain it. He said he has no interest in selling the property and intends to use the vacant land as a parking lot for his church members.
Demolitions in historic districts and at landmarked sites are considered “drastic actions,” said Elliott Perkins, executive director of the Historic District Landmarks Commission. They are granted only after a building’s historic rating, importance to the area and condition are evaluated.
Despite the city’s citations of the property, the HDLC found the building to be in good condition and judged it important to the neighborhood because of its former use as a traditional New Orleans corner store in the Algiers commercial corridor. The building retains several features from that former use, including large display windows, Perkins said.
The commission denied the demolition request for those reasons and because the church did not present a redevelopment plan for the site. The latter fact also rankled Head and Guidry.
“It creates a large area of no structures where this is a structure, it seems to me, that could be renovated and fit in the neighborhood very nicely as a typical New Orleans corner-store look,” Guidry said. “So I have a lot of problems with this, and the lack of plans and financing is a big part of it.”
Ramsey said she didn’t believe the building serves a purpose in the neighborhood.
“I appreciate historic preservation and the character of the neighborhood,” she said, but added that she supported the demolition, in part, because the city has allowed the demolition of other buildings in the area and had cited this one for neglect.
“I have walked the area. This is the area that I represent,” Ramsey said. “I’m familiar with the work that’s done in the community.”
But Gallagher said Ramsey’s office did not reach out to the neighborhood association before Thursday’s vote. The association only learned Ramsey planned to override the HDLC recommendation on Wednesday, Gallagher said.
He made it to Thursday’s meeting just as the City Council was voting and missed the opportunity to speak before the demolition request was granted. Head, as council president, later allowed him to speak shortly before the meeting was adjourned.
Ramsey apologized to Gallagher outside the council chamber after the meeting. She said she was under the impression, through conversations with church representatives, that the neighborhood association supported the plan for demolition.
Ramsey, however, passed on an opportunity to reconsider the vote on the issue after hearing Gallagher’s comments.
Guidry attempted to draw the council into a second vote but was unable to because she had been on the losing end of the initial vote.
Editor’s note: This story was changed June 6 to reflect that the city cited the building for demolition by neglect, but did not threaten to demolish it.