Merits of code panel debated

A push to augment Kenner’s code enforcement with a Board of Standards and Appeals has languished on the Kenner City Council’s docket as legislators hash out questions about the need and purpose of the new layer of government.

Councilman Kent Denapolis first proposed the new board in August, and he’s touted it as a way to provide better service to city residents. However, a vote on establishing the board had been delayed for months, and the council recently pushed back a decision until late December.

According to the ordinance, a seven-member board would review decisions by the city’s Inspection and Code Enforcement Department regarding whether building construction or renovation meets city standards. The board would be composed of engineers, architects and contractors appointed by the mayor and council.

Board members would serve terms ranging from two to five years, and the city’s attorney and code director would determine which cases were heard by the board, Denapolis said.

In the past, Kenner residents would have to either appeal those decisions to the 24th Judicial District Court or the Jefferson Parish Board of Standards and Appeals. Denapolis wants to handle those things in-house because it would make life easier for city residents and keep Kenner’s issues under Kenner’s control.

“This whole board is about providing constituent services,” Denapolis said. “As a code director, you don’t want to be the alpha and omega in making decisions.”

Denapolis said plenty of holes exist in the city’s current code. If residents want to use materials not specifically addressed in the city’s code, or if they want to try a new process, it can cause problems.

Denapolis added that after Hurricane Katrina, many residents made repairs to their homes without getting the necessary permits, and the city needs a process to address those issues. A judge in Kenner City Court might just force residents to tear down work because it violates the law, but the new board would be composed of professionals who know whether the project could safely be allowed to stand, Denapolis said. The new board would not consider cases handled by the city’s zoning board or planning board.

“They’re going to appeal their case and say ‘Will you accept this?’ ” Denapolis said. “This isn’t Mayberry anymore. If we’re going to be a progressive city, we have to have the constituent services in place to move forward … Although this is kind of new to our city, it’s not new to other cities and parishes.”

But a decision has been delayed because several of Denapolis’ colleagues aren’t certain the board is necessary. There also have been rumblings that the board would create a way for property owners to avoid Kenner’s rules about installing sidewalks during construction. Some council members claim that Kenner residents want a lean and efficient government, and this new board seems to move away from that model.

“We have to be careful we don’t keep adding layers of government unnecessarily,” Councilwoman Maria Defrancesch said. “Do we really need it, or is this just another layer of government that we’re adding?”

She said Denapolis hasn’t explained why the current system is untenable. She questioned whether the city needed to create a new board to handle the issues Denapolis has identified, like unpermitted construction, or whether there is a simpler solution. She would rather see the city tweak its code to address problems instead of creating a new board that will operate in perpetuity.

Councilman Keith Reynaud said he’s asked for delays because he needs more time to study the ramifications of the board. He also questioned the need for the board and added that it seems like it could create conflicts within the city administration.

Reynaud thinks residents who fail to follow city rules shouldn’t have a way to skirt the consequences. The council passed laws establishing the city’s codes, and it doesn’t make sense to create a way to ignore those rules, he said.

“I don’t know why they’re trying to put this together,” said Reynaud, who noted that he might seek even more delays. “If you research it, it’s not right.”