The proposed demolitions of three, two-family houses on Tchoupitoulas Street are headed to the New Orleans City Council on appeal, after the demolitions were denied by the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC). The row of vacant buildings (5514-5516, 5518-5520, and 5524 Tchoupitoulas St.) is owned by Car Wash Blues, LLC, which also owns Uptown Car Wash that surrounds the residences on three sides. According to a representative for the applicant who attended the Dec. 6 HDLC meeting, the car wash wants to expand its business. The Preservation Resource Center agrees with the findings of the commission. While blight is a major concern in this city, unnecessary demolitions of residential buildings are wasteful and unwise, particularly as the city faces an affordable housing crisis.

In November 2023, the HDLC staff conducted an interior and exterior inspection of the three buildings and concluded that they could be rehabilitated. At the Dec. 6 commission meeting, the applicant’s representative agreed with this conclusion, but argued that it was not financially feasible. Determining the economic viability of a proposed project is not the role of the commission.

Importantly, the current condition of the buildings appears to be owner-inflicted. Photos from the HDLC staff report show trash and termite wings littering the houses, and discussion from the Dec. 6 meeting revealed that the properties were forwarded to Code Enforcement about six months ago.

5514-5516, 5518-5520, and 5524 Tchoupitoulas St. Photo by Dee Allen.

According to the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office, Car Wash Blues, LLC, has owned the row for more than a decade, purchasing 5514-5516 and 5518-5520 Tchoupitoulas St. in 2007 and 5524 Tchoupitoulas St. in 2012. Also in 2012, the owner proposed demolition of 5518-5520 in the hopes of converting the property to commercial use. The Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee, under the City of New Orleans Department of Safety & Permits, denied the application. Although the applicant appealed the decision to the City Council, city records show that the application was left as a “draft.” In 2014, the City Council heard the appeal and denied the request.

Now, the fate of this residential row is in question again. The applicant’s representative at the commission meeting noted that the tenants had left in 2021-2022 because of poor living conditions, and finding replacement tenants was challenging because of the location. However, several residential properties on Tchoupitoulas in the immediate vicinity, including a center-hall cottage directly across the street, are well-maintained, restored or converted to commercial use creating a vibrant, walkable, mixed-use condition.

The three residential doubles, constructed circa 1890, contribute to the Uptown Historic District and are in District A represented by City Council member Joe Giarrusso. The PRC contacted the Giarrusso’s office about our concerns, and his office was receptive to the information PRC provided, also noting that any plans to expand the car wash would require a conditional use. Although Councilmember Giarrusso is still undecided about his position on the issue, he has advised the developer to continue conversations with the neighborhood. The issue will likely be heard by the City Council at its regular meeting on Jan. 18.

The current owner is responsible for the condition of the properties, and the City Council should require that the owner maintain these houses — instead of rewarding their negligence.

MaryNell Nolan-Wheatley is PRC’s Advocacy Coordinator & Public Policy Research Director.