Agency move leaves issues

Neighbors worry city can’t protect district

It seems the time has come for the Vieux Carré Commission to leave its home in the French Quarter, the neighborhood it is charged with protecting, and move to City Hall.

Speaking during the VCC’s Architectural Review Committee meeting Tuesday, Commission Director Lary Hesdorffer said there was still prep work going on for the impending move, and he did not have full details of when it would happen, though it could come as soon as this weekend.

“I expect we’ll be trying to have our next meeting over there,” he said.

The move comes as the Landrieu administration prepares to open a “one-stop shop” in City Hall for land-use and permitting agencies. The VCC will relocate to the seventh floor of the building, where it will join the City Planning Commission, Historic District Landmarks Commission and Department of Safety and Permits.

The city has said that those agencies working side by side and sharing administrative duties will result in more streamlined operations for those who need to do business with them.

The commission has been housed for many years in the second floor of the New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District station at Royal and Conti streets, making it easy for its small staff to keep an eye on the city’s oldest neighborhood.

Its move to City Hall worries some who fear that losing the VCC will mean a loss of a watchdog for the historic area, especially since the city has not said if anyone will remain in the office once the move happens.

In a Feb. 4 letter to former Deputy Mayor Michelle Thomas, who resigned unexpectedly Friday, Carol Allen, president of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Resident and Associates, questioned what effect the move will have on the Quarter if there are fewer or no people there to keep an eye on things.

“Everybody knows that violators of land use codes and permitting requirements seek every possible opportunity to exploit these regulations for their own personal good,” Allen wrote. “... It is incomprehensible to me, and to others, that the savings the administration hopes to gain by implementing this move will outweigh the importance of maintaining a fully-funded VCC inside the Vieux Carre.”

The city has said the current Royal Street office will be “staffed with VCC personnel and will maintain its current hours of operation.”

The VCC has five staff members, including Hesdorffer. The city has not specified how many people will continue to work in the Quarter.

City Hall spokesman Kam Buckner late Tuesday evening said he did not yet have information about future staffing at the current or the date of the move.

Hesdorffer said during Tuesday’s meeting that while he was still waiting for specifics about the move and staffing at the current office, it still will be manned “in some form or fashion.”

Still, he said the plan right now calls for packing up all of the agency’s files necessary for day-to-day operations and moving them to City Hall.

“I haven’t been instructed to leave files here,” he said.