City tells Algiers Point man to remove his electric vehicle charger, at least for now _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Vlad Ghelase with his electric car and charging station in front of his Algiers Point home Monday, November 30, 2015.

After considering making the switch to an electric vehicle for years, Vlad Ghelase finally bought a used Nissan Leaf two weeks ago.

Like many houses in older New Orleans neighborhoods, Ghelase’s lacks a driveway, so he couldn’t put the charging station for the car next to his Algiers Point house. Stretching a power cord across the sidewalk to the street could present problems. So he had an electrician apply for a permit to install a charging station next to the curb in front of his home.

And that’s when he ran into a problem that New Orleans apparently hasn’t yet grappled with, but which is likely to become more common in the future: how to deal with charging stations on the public property that lines the city’s streets.

Ghelase said he’s been told his charger is in violation of the law and he has to shut it down, giving him no way to keep his electric vehicle operating.

City officials said they’re looking into what to do about both his charger and what they expect to be an increasing number of similar situations in coming years.

In the meantime, however, Ghelase said he’s been frustrated trying to figure out how to get his charger into compliance with the law.

“That’s the irony of it. We’re in a red state with a Republican Legislature that has incentives for electric vehicles, and the most progressive city in the state is actually blocking it,” he said.

At least 11 people have received permits to put charging stations on their property, according to city records. But those were actually on their property, something that isn’t possible in areas of the city where driveways are scarce.

From the city’s perspective, there are two separate problems with Ghelase’s set-up, Director of Safety and Permits Jared Munster said. Anyone who builds on city property must pay for it under rules designed to abide by the prohibition against using public property for private gain, he said. In addition, for safety reasons, the law prohibits allowing electrical wires to cross property lines, even from a privately owned lot to the public right of way in front of it, he said.

Neither of those presents insurmountable problems, Munster said.

The city’s Department of Property Maintenance could sign off on a lease of a portion of the right of way, he said, though Ghelase said when he tried to go that route he was told it wasn’t possible. As for the issue of crossing property lines, Munster said the city’s Board of Building Standards and Appeals could clear the way for Ghelase’s set-up.

But in the meantime, Munster said, the department is asking Ghelase to disconnect his charging station.

Officials from the Department of Safety and Permits and the Department of Property Maintenance plan to meet to discuss Ghelase’s specific issue and, potentially, the broader topic of how to permit such charging stations in the future.

“It’s absolutely something we’re looking at,” Munster said. “This is going to become a more common issue. The more electric vehicles are on the road, the more it’s going to happen.”

The issue has come up only once before, when a property owner Uptown requested a permit for a similar set-up. At the time, city officials did not realize that installation was going to be on public property and so issued a permit, though they’re planning to revisit the issue, Munster said.

Another problem is that a charging station in the right of way next to the street would not give its owner a specific claim to the adjacent parking spot, and he couldn’t prevent others from using the charger.

Ghelase said he’d already been working under that assumption, based on regulations in place in Berkeley, California. He handed out fliers based on Berkeley’s law to his neighbors, letting them know the charger didn’t give him any special rights and they could use both the spot and the station.

Jeff Cantin, owner of Solar Alternatives, said his company has installed several chargers for residents and has not run into any problems. But with the price of electric vehicles coming down and interest in the technology rising, he said, New Orleans should look to other cities that have instituted a streamlined process to allow chargers in front of people’s homes.

“Other cities around the country have figured this out,” Cantin said. “Fortunately, as usual, New Orleans is a little bit behind the times, and we can look to those examples.”

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.