This rubs me the wrong way and I'm not sure why. But I also feel like people are hating.
The residents of Newcomb Boulevard are pushing back against claims that they are trying to create their own private sanctuary, one week before the City Planning Commission considers their application to buy the four-block Uptown street near Tulane and Loyola universities.
If the commission and City Council approve their request, the 35 households that call Newcomb home will not be forced to remove a wrought iron gate erected eight years ago that turned the public road into a cul-de-sac.
Contrary to accusations from opponents, residents of Newcomb do not intend to close off the street to pedestrians, bicyclists or people who want to continue to use it for parking, said Christian Rooney, president of the Newcomb Boulevard Association.
Nearly half of the people who live on Newcomb Boulevard bought their homes after the gate was put in place in 2006 under questionable circumstances; they had nothing to do with the original process and are now trying to go through all of the correct channels to ensure the gate is legal and the residents assume their share of the responsibility, Rooney said.
"Our goal is to keep Newcomb Boulevard the way it is now and has been for the past eight years and we are offering to purchase the street from the City at fair market value and assume future maintenance costs," Rooney wrote in an emailed statement. "The city will only gain from this transaction: the purchase price, property tax collection, and forgone maintenance expenses."
Residents first petitioned the city in 2005 to close off Newcomb with a gate at Freret Street to prevent drivers from using it as a "speedway cut-through" that, they said, endangered children and pedestrians.
Public Works Director John Shires awarded the residents a permit to construct the gate Jan. 31, 2006, his last day in office, despite never putting the issue before the City Planning Commission or the City Council, or requiring the residents of Newcomb to buy the street and pay for future maintenance costs, as city law requires.
Civil District Judge Michael Bagneris in 2012 called the gate installation and the circumvention of city law an "abuse of power" and ruled the barrier to be illegal but delayed enforcing the order to allow the residents time to appeal.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the ruling a year later and the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear the matter last May, ending the appeals process.
The Newcomb Boulevard Association filed an application to purchase the street last July, prompting the city to request a stay on removing the fence. Bagneris granted the request in October, giving the association time to complete the process, but with no apparent progress, the 4th Circuit Court ordered the city Dec. 30 to remove the gate.
The city at first indicated it would comply with the ruling but later stated that the fence can only be torn down after Newcomb Boulevard is converted into a one-way street, an action that requires City Council approval.
The city's delay bought the residents of Newcomb more time as the City Planning Commission is scheduled to consider their application to purchase the street April 8. If the commission approves the proposal it next goes before the City Council; if the commission fails to approve the application the residents will have no further recourse and the city will eventually be forced to remove the gate.
The residents of Newcomb include four doctors, seven attorneys with some of the biggest law firms in the city, a family court judge, the owner of a funeral home company, the owner of a real estate firm, the director of Pan American Financial Services and the namesake of the LSU John P. Laborde Energy Center.
Over the past several years, 12 residents of Newcomb made significant contributions to councilmembers Stacy Head, $6,300, and Susan Guidry, $3,600, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, $6,500, and former councilman Jay Batt, $4,000, who advocated for the gate's installation.
However, the leading voice for the removal of the gate, Keith Hardie, who lives on the adjacent Audubon Street, alone contributed more to local political campaigns than all of the Newcomb residents combined.
The private attorney contributed $50,300 to the "Anybody but Batt" campaign, $11,000 to Guidry, $10,000 to Head and $4,500 to LaToya Cantrell.
Guidry represents the district where Newcomb is located.
Hardie said that the closure of a public road disrupts the traditional street grid design of New Orleans and goes against the Master Plan, which states that "with adequate connectivity, traffic flows are evenly dispersed through a network and streets receive the types of traffic that they are designed to handle. If connectivity is restricted to fewer intersections, automobile traffic faces bottlenecks."
Rooney notes that Newcomb is "a single block over a quarter of a mile in length, the equivalent of four blocks, without a single intersection."
"Although the process by which the City followed to allow the barrier has been determined to be flawed, the need for providing traffic safety given Newcomb Boulevard's unique design remains," Rooney said. "It wasn't designed to be a part of the traffic grid; rather it was designed in 1917 as a private street. Traffic studies have twice shown that there is minimal impact to traffic flow to surrounding streets with or without Newcomb Boulevard open."