FOX 8 Defenders: City could soon fill-in dangerous N.O. East pool neglected for years

FOX 8 Defenders: City could soon fill-in dangerous N.O. East pool neglected for years

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The FOX 8 Defenders reveal dozens of New Orleans properties the City says have been reported, investigated or observed as having swimming pool violations. It’s part of an ongoing FOX 8 Defenders investigation. In this report, we look into what may be one of the most dangerous pools not maintained in the City and explain what could soon happen to it after years of neglect.

A public records request in October revealed there are 60 swimming pools across New Orleans with reported violations. Here’s the breakdown of locations:

-2 in Uptown

-2 in Lakeview

-10 in Gentilly

-16 in Algiers

-30 in New Orleans East

"They’re a hazard to the City, to the health, " a neighbor said.

The worst offender we found on the City’s list is in the East, where the majority of reported neglected swimming pools are located. The vacant lot at 4767 Charlene Drive is so overgrown you can’t really tell there’s a dangerous pool at the back of the property when you drive by it.

“It’s scary, especially if you have children,” said a neighbor who did not want to be identified.

Other area residents told FOX 8 thatseveral kids play in the yard right next door.

According to the New Orleans Fire Department, the Charlene Drive property burned in 2009, and the City’s online database of blighted properties, Blight Status, shows it has been a vacant lot since 2009.

Only a small sign on one side of the property warns people of the abandoned pool, and residents say NOPD barricades around the pool only went up recently, in early October.

One neighbor is afraid to go in his own backyard.

“We’ve been having a snake problem because of the pool - water moccasins, to be specific,” he said.

Records show Steven C. Payton and Dionne S. Payton own the property. In 2007, they received Road Home money for damage the property sustained in Hurricane Katrina.

Blight Status shows the property has had Code Enforcement violations in 2010, 2012, 2014 and again just last month.

“This is horrible, Shelley. This is absolutely unacceptable,” said New Orleans City Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen.

The blighted pool is located in her district, and she was shocked to see the condition first exposed in a Nov. 2 FOX 8 Defenders report.

“A kid may a throw a ball in there, and they’re chasing after a ball, right? So there’s all sorts of things that could happen, that we don’t want to wait for it to happen. We know what could happen,” Nguyen said.

It’s clear the Charlene Drive pool is unfiltered and not fenced.

“By definition, this is an emergency pool,” New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarrusso said.

He proposed a new law that the full council backed and the mayor approved in October, deeming pools like this an emergency. With that new law, Giarrusso said the City now has the authority to drain the pool and fill it in with sand.

"They (the City) have the authority, and that’s what should be done,” Giarrusso said.

The law says “The City may enter upon the premises or lot to immediately fill-in any pool found to be in noncompliance.”

“This warrants that emergency right. This definitely warrants that right,” Nguyen said.

However, the Director of the City’s Code Enforcement Department, Albert “Snapper” Poche, said he can’t immediately call any pool an emergency without a notice to the property owner, a hearing and then an appeals period.

“I don’t have the legal authority to go and irreparably change someone’s property without going through the process, and we’re actively going through that right now,” Poche said.

We showed Poche a picture of the unfenced and unfiltered pool on Charlene Drive, and still, he said based on the City Attorney’s determination, it does not constitute an imminent threat.

That information contradicted the ordinance the council passed and the mayor approved, so we asked him again.

“The interpretation of the City Attorney is that the pool, as it exists, does not constitute an imminent threat such that we can ignore the owner’s constitutional rights,” Poche said. That was last week.

This week, Beau Tidwell, Communications Director for the City, emailed the following statement: “Code Enforcement for the City of New Orleans will continue to pursue pool violations and review potential abatement actions on a case-by-case basis. We believe that the recent ordinance amending the City Code related to pools is constitutional, and we appreciate the City Council’s partnership in addressing potentially hazardous pools. In applying this new emergency authority—and in evaluating the circumstances that may lead to a formal declaration of emergency— the City will fully evaluate all relevant considerations.”

Mayor Latoya Cantrell explained the City will respond to emergencies that are brought to their attention and referenced a longtime blighted Lakeview pool that’s been the subject of multiple FOX 8 Defenders reports for the last year.

“We were just very capable and able of working with the resident (Frances Musacchia) to drain her pool and cover it as it was a concern of the communities and so that was something that we were able to do without spending City funds to do it, so my process is working with people, listening,” Cantrell said.

Meantime, Nguyen told us she met with Code Enforcement officials this week and is confident the unfenced, unfiltered pool on Charlene Drive will be addressed.

“I’m glad that you guys brought this to our attention,” Nguyen said.

We have tried reaching out to the Charlene Drive property owners to get their response to our report. So far we have not heard back from Steven C. Payton or Dionne S. Payton.

Next week, the FOX 8 Defenders look into more blighted pools that aren’t new to Code Enforcement violations and what’s being done to tackle them.

“We’ve had the West Nile right there in City Park so it’s really scary,” concerned resident Rita LeGrand said.

If you’ve got a consumer issue you want us to address, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women, the NCJW or, fill out our online complaint form.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.