Amtrak, don’t build that fence.
That was the message the New Orleans City Council sent Thursday as it voted to stop the railroad from erecting a chain-link fence along the Earhart Boulevard train tracks.
The fence would strangle the life out of the once-neglected but now burgeoning business corridor, council members said in passing a motion aimed at bringing work on the barrier to a standstill.
The offending structure is being erected by Amtrak, council President Stacy Head said.
It would be a 7-foot-high fence topped with a foot of “prisonlike” barbed wire, she said. Posts to secure the fence already have been driven into the ground along the little-used rail spur.
“This is a barbed wire fence that looks very much like what the sheriff has been building around the jail,” Head said. “It sends the wrong message.”
Head said the rail line is using a federal grant to build the fence for “security” purposes but that Amtrak has not been clear about what it is intended to protect from whom. Attempts by Head’s office, nearby businesses and the New Orleans Building Corp., which leases the publicly owned land to Amtrak, to resolve the issue have failed.
“While Amtrak asserts the fence is needed for security, there are alternate methods and designs to secure the area,” said Garnesha Crawford, a spokeswoman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu. She said “representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the New Orleans Building Corp. met with Amtrak officials in an effort to resolve this matter amicably — to no avail.”
“My question is: Why? What are they trying to do? What is the message they are trying to send?” Head said. “They want to make sure our residents don’t go on the tracks? Well, we’ve got a lot of railroad tracks in New Orleans. I don’t see fences everywhere.”
Amtrak did not respond to a request for comment.
The council voted 7-0 to direct the City Planning Commission to amend the city’s proposed new comprehensive zoning ordinance to include creation of the Earhart Corridor Spur Track Interim Zoning District to prohibit the building of “any barrier or other obstruction” within 15 feet of the tracks between South Lopez Street and South Broad Street, unless the fence is reviewed and approved by the City Planning Commission staff.
The vote amounts to a stop work order to the railroad.
The council’s motion says the fence would “interrupt the growth of the Earhart Boulevard corridor,” which for years was the victim of neglect and disinvestment but now is home to Restaurant Depot, the corporate headquarters of Bridge House, the Sucré bakery, Woodward Design + Build and several other businesses.
Councilman Jason Williams said the fence would put a “chilling effect” on the corridor’s growth.
“I think aesthetics are very, very important. And I think for a very long time we have not put enough value in that,” Williams said. “We have to be, obviously, uber-conscious of what other folks are trying to do with our town.”
The City Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the matter Nov. 11.
The issue arises as the city is putting the finishing touches on the new zoning ordinance, which rewrites the 40-year-old laws governing land use in the city. The ordinance has taken four years to craft and is scheduled to be considered by the council next month.
“This is a difficult time to do it because it overloads the City Planning Commission,” Head said. “But for the time sensitivity of it, I would not have done it.”