by Carolyn Roy
The City condemned the abandoned Hopeville Apartments at 312 Second St., with a vote of 4-1 on the condemnation ordinance at the City Council meeting Monday. Sylvia Morrow cast the one no vote with Lawrence Batiste, Dale Nielsen, Eddie Harrington and Don Mims voting yes. There was no new information from those representing the owners who are fighting the condemnation and demolition of the apartments that were purchased in 2016 by an owner in Georgia whose original intent was to obtain tax credits in return for rehabilitating the structures to house homeless veterans from places other than Natchitoches.
Numerous delays in construction and efforts to secure the site prompted the City to begin the condemnation process earlier this year. Speaking on behalf of the owners of the complex who reportedly have financing for tax credits for the apartments, were an attorney from New Orleans, architectural consultant from Columbia, Mo., and architect from Mississippi, all of whom represent Sterling Bank in Missouri. As at past meetings, they contend the buildings are structurally sound and the property is a construction site, not one that is dilapidated, dangerous and unsafe as described in the condemnation ordinance. They submitted construction plans to the City last week that were approved by the fire marshal and have applied for a building permit.
They contend the project can be finished in six months. City Attorney Ronald Corkern challenged their assertion that the property is a construction site with the three agreeing with Corkern, numerous times, that photographs showed the buildings to be dilapidated and dangerous, focusing mainly on balconies that are falling off the buildings. Corkern also had pictures of evidence of someone living in the buildings as well as pictures of drug paraphernalia. One photo even showed a set of false teeth. Dale Nielsen said that in his opinion, there was no faith and trust from those with financial interests that the project would move forward until the City moved to condemn the property. “I don’t have faith you will move forward in a timely manner,” Nielsen said. He was referring to several delays over the last two and one half years that resulted in only a fence around the area and boards on some of the windows and doors. The fence was easily penetrated by several people and did not provide an element of safety requested by the City. Eddie Harrington also pointed to multiple meetings with those with financial interests that resulted in promises that were not fulfilled and only offered numerous excuses.
“At what point is enough enough,” he said. Lawrence Batiste said he believed efforts to build this type of housing were losing force across the board. “Is the movement for low income housing on the decline?” Batiste asked. Morrow said that while there had been problems with the project, she was glad to see positive movement. With the passage of the ordinance, the City must wait 30 days from the date of the meeting to proceed with demolition. The demolition services must be bid.
In other action, Mayor Lee Posey said the council would rethink an ordinance that was proposed at the last council meeting to prohibit parking in the Historic District by motor coaches, campers, oversized vans and other types of vehicles that were longer than one parking space. Front Street merchant Luke Frederick said that he felt like the ordinance was a knee-jerk reaction to a large recreation vehicle that parked on Front Street during the Meat Pie Festival for a long time obscuring the view of drivers.
He said travelers would not be able to park and walk around to shop and sightsee. Posey acknowledged that Frederick had a good point and said he would send the ordinance back to City attorneys to be rewritten, possibly prohibiting parking just on Front Street and the narrowest side streets. Gloria Young asked the council to consider problems on the streets in the Pan Am subdivision on the south end of South Drive. In the past, companies dug up the streets to lay utility lines and never returned to repair the streets. She believes that has increased flooding and made some streets impassable for traffic and garbage trucks and mail trucks .
“I’m ashamed to have my family and friends come in,” Young said. She asked that the City rebuild the streets and restore the drainage. Young also asked for no parking and other street signs. “If they give me the sign, I’ll put it up,” Young said. Posey said he and Nielsen, who represents the area, would try to get a game plan. The next council meeting will be Dec. 9, the only meeting in December.