NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - “It’s the furthest we’ve come in 11 years in this (Code Enforcement) process,” Lakeview homeowner Connie Uddo said. Uddo was one of several Lakeview neighbors who called the ruling at a Code Enforcement hearing Monday a big win.
“We’ve been attending.. I believe this is the 12th (Code Enforcement) hearing. My dad has attended all of them.. and got some good news today,” Brigette Starr said. Starr lives next door to a vacant home and nuisance pool.
On Monday, the Code Enforcement hearing officer ruled in favor of the City, fining the property owner, Frances Musacchia the maximum $500 fine for each of the seven Code Enforcement violations, from the swimming pool to the fences and walls around it that aren’t maintained, concerns that have been laid out in a series of FOX 8 Defenders reports since November of 2017. The hearing officer also ruled to allow the city to fill in the pool.
Uddo called it a stagnant swamp. “The pool is not just a nuisance, it’s an imminent health hazard,” she said. Neighbors who packed the hearing expressed worries about West Nile Virus and the fear a child could get on the property, especially through a now gaping hole in the brick fence that surrounds the pool.
Before the ruling, the homeowner gave her side, claiming the City has road-blocked her. “The city pulled the Entergy permit, and that’s what happened. That’s why there’s no electricity there. Why the city pulled it, you need to ask Safety and Permits. I can’t get an answer from anyone over there,” Musacchia said.
Wanting to get answers from the Department of Safety and Permits, the hearing officer took a short recess until the department director arrived.
“I’ve tried to call you numerous times since July of this year. I’m not even gonna bring up the 2016 version how you call us, but we can never call you ok,” Safety and Permits Director Zachary Smith said. “We try. The Department of Safety and Permits, the Office of Code Enforcement, the City of New Orleans tries to help you, and you refuse to help yourself,” he said.
Smith explained that the property has to be renovated legally to get electrical service. “Until you have a valid construction permit from my office, you will not get any electrical service back at that property. Until you have an actual certificate of occupancy from my office signed by me you will not get a permitted meter at that property,” Smith told Musacchia.
The City liaison explained the homeowner has been fined before, served several judgments and even avoided a sheriff’s sale twice. Still, the property has never been resolved.
“I think we really need to send a message to property owners.. particularly those who’ve had blighted property since Katrina,” New Orleans City Council member Joe Giarrusso told FOX 8 in a previous interview.
Giarrusso, who’s said he wants the City to be more aggressive with blighted pools, also attended the hearing, sharing a letter he sent the homeowner last month after the two agreed that she’d move forward. “You agree to either one of two courses of conduct on or before September 24th regarding the pool at 5700 Vicksburg,” he said when reading the actual letter. At the time of the hearing though, Giarrusso told the hearing officer he had not received any plans from the homeowner.
Concerned neighbors were thrilled with the hearing officer’s ruling, but say they’re cautiously optimistic given the history of the property and Code Enforcement process.
The homeowner has 30 days to appeal the Code Enforcement ruling in Civil District Court. After that period has elapsed, if the owner still fails to maintain the pool, the city says it plans to fill it with river sand. The last time the City filled a swimming pool on private property was back in 2013 according to a Mayor’s spokesperson.
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