Kenner officials scrap proposal for code appeal board

Kenner officials have scrapped a proposal to create a new board to review decisions by the city’s inspection and code enforcement department and instead will focus on fixing the issue of improperly renovated homes another way.

Councilman Kent Denapolis decided to “indefinitely defer” consideration on his ordinance that would have created a Board of Standards and Appeals at Thursday’s Kenner City Council meeting. Denapolis first proposed creating the board in August, but it’s languished on the council’s agenda for months as officials debated its merits behind the scenes. Denapolis previously touted the board as a way to provide an extra service to city residents who had been stymied by the normal regulatory process.

The council did not discuss the motion publicly.

Denapolis said after the meeting that he pulled the proposal because he’s received some assurances from his fellow board members that they will help him tweak the city’s existing ordinances to fix some of the problems the board would have addressed. The most pressing issue concerns homes that were repaired without building permits following Hurricane Katrina.

Denapolis noted that after the storm, city officials begged residents to return to their homes quickly and issued “storm permits,” which waived the normal fees for renovations. However, many residents thought that they were exempted from having to get a building permit in general, or from having to get their renovations inspected by the city. Now, residents are trying to sell homes that don’t have the proper permits, and it’s a growing problem, Denapolis said.

“People misunderstood the storm permits,” Denapolis said. “(But) we wouldn’t have been able to get our city up and running if these people didn’t take the initiative.”

He said several council members have agreed to work with him to streamline the city’s ordinances to get some relief for homeowners, and he’s satisfied residents’ concerns will be addressed.

Denapolis’ proposal struggled to gain traction among politicians, several of whom saw it as an unnecessary additional layer of government. Councilwoman Maria Defrancesch, who pledged to work with Denapolis to fix the city’s laws, said the push to add another layer of bureaucracy was troubling.

“I don’t think you necessarily create a whole new layer of government to address a very specific problem,” she said. Councilman Keith Reynaud also opposed the board, and Denapolis said Reynaud will be helping with the ordinance changes.

Resident advocacy group Citizens for a Better Kenner has been a persistent critic of the plan as well. Walt Bennetti, the group’s president, suggested the board was a way for some residents to skirt Kenner’s guidelines for adding sidewalks in construction plans. He also questioned the independence of the members of the board. Richard Brown, another group member, said there are better ways to fix the problem.

“We think those changes can be made with less drastic changes,” Brown said.

Denapolis did not set a timetable for when the ordinance changes would be made, although he’s identified it as a priority. He also has not discussed exactly what form the changes might take. If Kenner officials certify the safety of repairs made to homes without conducting an inspection, they could be potentially be liable for future problems, city officials have noted.