President’s Year-End Message to Members


December 9, 2017

“There may have been a time when preservation was saving an old building here or there, but those days are gone.  Preservation is the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”

Richard Moe, National Trust For Historic Preservation.

“Be patient. In time, even an egg will walk”
Chinese proverb from a fortune cookie

Dear French Quarter Citizen Members,

Oh what a year! So many issues, so little time!  Here we are once again on the cusp of a new year. My thanks to all of you for lending your support throughout this past year which has unfolded like a run-a-way roller coaster. Keep your support and comments coming!

Both of the quotes above describe the year 2017 perfectly.  The first quote, by Richard Moe, exactly describes issues we have confronted this year. More than ever before, the issues we faced included not only saving our historic buildings, but also confronting issues that threaten our quality of life and the viability and livability of the French Quarter.   We will never give up our fight to preserve our historic architecture and will continue to fight doggedly to prevent the destruction of our historic buildings, whether through neglect, unapproved alterations, or unchecked development. However, we can no longer limit our mission to that effort alone.  As Mr. Moe points out, we must recognize that preservation is becoming more and more about fighting for all of the issues that make up the fabric of our community. Of course that includes our unique and irreplaceable architecture, but it also includes equally critical issues such as crime, parking, short term rentals, noise, graffiti, congestion and aging infrastructure.  French Quarter Citizens will continue to expand our efforts into these areas because these issues too, are integral to preserving the French Quarter as the living breathing neighborhood that we all want it to be.
The second quote above is also a perfect description of the year 2017.  I am happy to report that on some critical issues the egg finally hatched and walked! Our patience, determination and diligence were successful in resolving pivotal issues that have been lingering in limbo for years.

On an equally positive note, all of the organizations in all of our historic neighborhoods have been working closer with one another than they have for many years.  The French Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, and Tremé, have teamed up to present a united front on issues that cross neighborhood boundaries, such as crime, noise, and short term rentals. Now, more than ever, we must continue to work together to make our voices heard.

On the quality of life front there have been several noteworthy victories:
Air rights and servitudes – Once again, the City attempted to initiate a city-wide permanent tax of property owners for all encroachments onto city property, including but not limited to galleries, balconies and stoops and window overhangs. The City outrageously claimed the tax is valid because the encroachment violates the City’s air-rights to that space even though property owners are legally responsible for the sidewalk in front of their homes.  FQC and other neighborhood organizations opposed this tax arguing that the La. Constitution states the City “may” charge a tax not “must” charge a tax. Additionally, FQC opposed this fee on the basis that it will discourage new residents from buying homes and current residents from making repairs to the historic homes.  After a presentation of law was made to City Council, the City Attorney agreed to review the matter, concluding that the tax was, in fact, illegal and NOT required by the La. Constitution because a property owner cannot be taxed on a space that provides a public service. The City Attorney rightly concluded that the City cannot our sidewalks, balconies and galleries because they provide a public service by sheltering the public from heat and rain and enhance tourism.  This issue has now been resolved once and for all.

During 2017 the City, along with Sobi Bike Share Company initiated a bike share program aimed at making bikes for hire available throughout the City. They City drew up a plan that initially included 17 bike stations inside the Quarter, many on residential streets.  The proposed bike corrals were oversized, and fashioned after those that are used on wide boulevards of Paris, Rome and Seattle.  The corrals would have been placed on our tiny 20 ft. wide streets, and some on the corners, using scarce street space currently allocated for parking “turn space” for large vehicles.  Additionally, each corral would have been marked with lighted kiosks containing constantly flashing advertisements.  FQC was opposed to this program but has always been in favor of a few free public corrals in the Quarter.  Every commercial organization and all residential/preservation organizations were opposed to these corrals in the French Quarter.  This was the first time in recent history that all of these groups were solidly on the same ground on a single issue. However, the City continued to turn a deaf ear to our concerns.  Ultimately, FQC and Committee Chair Gail Cavett met one-on-one with Sobi Bike Share and their sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield.  With their cooperation, we were able to defeat the City’s plan. The revised plan will have all of the Sobi Bike Share corrals except one on the perimeter of the French Quarter. The once allowed inside will have not advertising and will include free public bike space. This is an example of what can happen when all the organizations and groups work together.

Another positive quality life issue is the addition of a new school to the French Quarter.  To our delight, the Homer Plessy School moved to the former Kipp McDonogh 15 location on Royal Street. A school is a wonderful addition to our neighborhood. The children are relocating to the French Quarter from a school district that is rife with crime and violence. It is so dangerous, the children could not be allowed to go out to play during the day.  They have repeatedly expressed to us their delight in bringing their school to the French Quarter.  French Quarter Citizens is working with the school administration to explore ways that we can ensure the school and its students will thrive at their new location and remain here for many years to come. Your thoughts on this are welcome.

There is also good news this year on the French Quarter Task Force and its operations in the French Quarter.  After requesting an additional officer for the past five years, at long last, an additional officer has been added and will be specifically tasked with spotting and citing all trucks in the French Quarter that are over 35 feet long.  The fine for entering the French Quarter in an over-sized truck is substantial. We are excited about this development and hopeful that it will prevent further damage to our beautiful balconies, galleries and sidewalks.  The Task Force will also be adding an additional smart car, which will allow for additional shifts.  The “blue light” of the smart cars has made a difference and we will continue to work closely with NOPD and French Quarter Management District to ensure that our neighborhood is protected.

Another issue that will continue to require a team effort is the enforcement of the ordinance regarding short term rentals. As you all know, the ordinance passed last October contained a prohibition against all short term rentals in the French Quarter except in the Bourbon Street entertainment district.  We are truly gratified that the City Council recognizes the value of the French Quarter and its significance to the City and the world.  Since the prohibition went into effect, many more properties have come back on the market as long-term rentals, or have been listed for sale. The Council established a reporting procedure, through the One Stop Shop and it is critical that we all report violations of the prohibition when they occur.  The enforcement procedure is working.  However, the enforcement procedure is only as good as the paper it is printed on unless we continue to report violators. There are still many scoff-laws that ignore the prohibition and continue to operate illegally in the French Quarter.  It is very simple to do and will make all the difference in keeping the Quarter free of short term rentals. Just go to our web site at http://www.frenchquartercitizens.org. On the left side of the web page click “Short Term Rental”.  That will take you to the One Stop Shop website.  Then click “Report a violation”.

In the coming year, we will continue to work with neighborhood leaders as well as old and new city council persons to tweak the ordinance. French Quarter Citizens supports higher fines for violators city-wide.  In neighborhoods where short term rentals are legal, French Quarter Citizens remains adamantly opposed to non-owner occupied whole house rentals city wide, and supports restrictions on how many occupants can be allowed to stay in a short term rental unit.

On the preservation front we have been very busy as well:
As you may recall, the developer of the old Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel was asking for a 90 foot waiver which City Council has approved. The waiver would add nine new floors to the current building. This will increase the height of the building to 178 feet, fronting onto Royal Street. The final skyline of the building would be grossly out of scale to the surrounding buildings.  The proposed development would have inadequate parking for guests, inadequate trash retention space, and drop off and pick up would completely eclipse Royal Street as a usable thoroughfare. The property is now changing hands, and the new developer is requesting a height waiver as well.  We will continue to press our legal arguments that the waiver is counter to the Master Plan, which has the force of law.  If we are successful, we may set a precedent that will help our preservation efforts throughout the French Quarter.

Cajun 411- this issue involves a bar on Bourbon Street that has applied for a waiver to make various changes to the building including adding a third floor and a party deck on top of the third floor. The City Council overrode the Vieux Carré Commission’s denial and granted the waiver. French Quarter Citizens is supporting a law suit filed by the Vieux Carré Commission Foundation which is arguing that the Council’s action was invalid.

Habana Outpost- The battle continues on this preservation issue as well.  FQC is a party to the law suit filed to prevent the developer from opening an open air, live music venue on the corner of Esplanade at Rampart. The lawsuit is still on-going and currently in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. We will continue to oppose the developer’s attempt to destroy one of the last, most residential street in the French Quarter.

Additionally, in in the coming year we will be keeping a close eye on the Mayor’s proposed redevelopment of the riverfront on either side of Woldenberg Park.  The City is in the process of swapping the Public Belt for the Esplanade Avenue Wharf and the Gov. Nicholls Street Wharf with the intent of creating a revenue producing event venue. The plans are murky and the City has provided no details. We will be watching this closely and relaying information to you as events unfold. We urge all of you stay involved and make your voices heard!  Also in the coming year we will continue the fight against graffiti on our buildings.  We will remain vigilant on enforcement issues, and we must closely monitor proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that could severely impact the make-up of our neighborhoods and alter the residential nature of our streets.  As usual, we have much to do and your help, as always, is critical.

Despite our intense preservation activities, we’ve had some great fun this year as well. Our Quarterly meetings and Pot Luck Dinners were once again blessed with great weather and are always a wonderful way to see our neighbors, visit lovely homes, and catch up on the preservation activities in the French Quarter.  We were fortunate to have many entertaining and informative speakers at each meeting.  Additionally, our Gala “Moonlight Magic at the Ritz” was a fabulous success. The Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton provided a spectacular setting for 12 local restaurants who provided mouth-watering dishes for our enjoyment.  There were more items in our live and silent auction than ever before. FQC honored Coleman Adler for his commitment to historic preservation and Architect Peter Trapolin for his insight as to the importance and effect of historic architecture on the present and the future. After the ceremony, attendees danced to the Y’at Pak, until 10:30 pm.  It was a moonlit magic night indeed!

Finally, we have a wonderful new addition to our FQC staff, Jodi Poretto, our new Executive Director.  Jodi has diversified experience from her work as an art dealer at coordinating events as well as managing websites, social media and the operations of non-profit organizations. She is a great asset to our organization.  If you have not met her yet, please do so at the next quarterly meeting.

We also want to welcome our new District C councilmember, Kristen Palmer. We look forward to working with her in the future!

As 2017 comes to a close, we have successfully addressed numerous issues and we can celebrate our victories.  However, many critical issues remain that could have a lasting negative effect on our quality of life.  As we head into 2018 I hope you will continue to support French Quarter Citizens.   I ask all of you to become involved and stay involved so we may protect the unique and fragile place we call home.
A safe and Happy New Year to you all!!

Sincerely,
Susan Guillot
President