[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish Council requests federal review of apartment permitting
westley at da-parish.com
Fri Mar 4 01:22:33 EST 2011
St. Bernard Parish Council requests federal review of apartment permitting
Published: Thursday, March 03, 2011, 8:31 PM Updated: Thursday, March
03, 2011, 9:00 PM
By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune
Following several tough-talking days by St. Bernard Parish officials
criticizing the federal government's intrusion into their enclave, the
Parish Council on Thursday passed a motion asking the Department of Justice
to come into their parish and review whether all legal steps were followed
in the funding and permitting of four multifamily apartments that have
churned residents' blood.
The council also passed a resolution authorizing Parish President Craig
Taffaro to hire a constitutional lawyer to examine whether the parish has
any avenue to fight the federal mandates that have tied local hands.
Taffaro said on Thursday that he would sign cease-and-desist orders for all
four parcels later that night, but warned the 50 impassioned residents at
the emergency council meeting that the orders likely would have no effect
because of the federal government's strong arm. During the regular council
meeting on Tuesday night, Taffaro had requested that the council authorize
the recission of the sites' construction permits, but the council never
voted on that matter.
"The issue is whether we have a right to govern ourselves, whether or not a
federal system has the right or the authority to set aside local or state
laws and dictate actions," Taffaro told the crowd on Thursday. "There comes
a time when the federal government has more authority, more power and more
financing and more decision-making authority than we have at the local
"That is an indictment of where we are in our nation," Taffaro broadly
concluded, adding that after Hurricane Katrina the federal government has
"forced a social agenda and misapplied recovery funding in a way that is
detrimental to our community."
Despite past federal judgments ordering the parish let the apartments move
forward, a pending federal lawsuit and the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development breathing down its neck on the same theme, Taffaro on
Tuesday began his anti-federalist call.
So with HUD and the federal judge calling the parish's actions intentionally
racially discriminatory, Taffaro and others have attempted to reframe the
issue as a matter of Uncle Sam imposing its will on local interests.
And after Taffaro's call to arms on Tuesday, parish Department of Community
Development Director Mary Chimento appeared to follow her commander. She
called Provident Realty Advisors' construction supervisor, Ken Jones, and
informed him the parish would issue cease-and desist orders shutting down
all four apartment sites, according to a signed statement by Jones filed in
federal court just before midnight Wednesday.
That statement was part of several court filings Wednesday night by the
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and Provident that asked U.S.
District Judge Ginger Berrigan to issue a temporary restraining order
barring the parish from "issuing any cease-and-desist orders or other orders
intended to stop work on, or re-reviewing construction issues already
reviewed and approved by, St. Bernard." The judge is expected to rule on the
motion after a teleconference Friday.
A few phone calls later on Wednesday afternoon, Chimento allegedly told
Jones to voluntarily shut down construction on all four sites because there
were additional wetlands on them that the Army Corps of Engineers had not
yet uncovered, according to Jones' statement.
Chimento said if Provident Realty Advisors did not agree to voluntarily stop
work, the parish would issue the cease-and-desist orders and re-review all
site construction plans, according to Jones. Chimento later said in her own
statement filed into court records on Thursday afternoon that the
conversation was more nuanced and that she was simply trying to make sure
the developers followed proper procedures.
About 9 p.m. Wednesday, Councilman Ray Lauga sent out an e-mail stating, it
"looks like all of the sites will be shut down on Thurs. am. If anyone sees
work continuing please call or text me."
A Times-Picayune reporter was informed by corps officials on Thursday that
the corps had examined all four sites again Wednesday afternoon and found no
additional wetlands. Last week the corps did find a sliver of wetlands on
one of the apartment sites.
That site, south of West Judge Perez Drive and catty-corner to the Wal-Mart,
has only 0.3 acres of wetlands on its eastern side, which is about 7 percent
of its 4 acres. Construction only has to stop on that small section of
wetlands while Provident awaits a corps permit.
Past stands against the apartments have already cost the parish nearly $1.5
million -- not including its own attorneys' fees -- and now HUD is
threatening to block hundreds of millions in federal funding to the parish
and forward the matter to the Department of Justice.
Provident is racing against a tight deadline. To receive the federal
low-income housing tax credits that account for half of its $60 million
development, the apartments must be completed by the end of the year.
Benjamin Alexander-Bloch can be reached at bbloch at timespicayune.com or
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