City council adopts Historic District laws

Tryve Brackin
CLEARED OFF...Property at the corner of Church and Court streets that held trees and the old Pitre home for a hundred years in Plaquemine's National Register Historic District is now a vacant lot. Brent Bonadona, who purchased and cleared the lot, has not yet applied for the change from residential to commercial zoning that he would need to expand his adjacent body shop business, Performance Auto. Bonadona's successful suit to force the city to issue him a demolition permit led to the city's re-enacting and strengthening the laws governing governing historic areas of the city. The Board of Selectmen took action last week.

The Plaquemine Board of Selectmen last week re-adopted city ordinances creating the Plaquemine Historic District and a historic commission to administer them – with additions aimed at tightening laws on demolition permits for historic buildings.

The new laws also recognize a third historic area, the Haase-Osage District, one of the city's oldest mid-town areas, in addition to the downtown Garden District of Plaquemine and the Old Turnerville area of north Plaquemine.

City officials acted to re-enact the laws as quickly as possible, but taking particular care to document all the required legal advertisements and public hearings.

The laws came into question as residents of the city's National Register Historic District fought unsuccessfully to save the 100-year-old Pitre house from demolition.

District Judge William C. Dupont in June ordered the city to issue a demolition permit to Brent Bonadona, who wanted to clear the lot at the corner of Church and Court streets for an expansion of his automotive body.

Dupont agreed with Bonadona's attorney, Tony Clayton, that the cit y had not properly established the Historic District Commission in city law. The city could not produce evidence of public hearings, thought published in the defunct Bayou Country newspaper, which was the city's official journal the year the laws were adopted.

In addition to re-adopting the historic district laws last week, the city council recognized a Historic Preservation Study Committee report, and enacted the Plaquemine Historic District Commission by-laws and a manual of design guidelines.

City officials gave careful attention to an ordinance on demolition of historic buildings, a law intended to “preserve the historic and architectural resource within the Historic District.” The law recognizes that some circumstances beyond the control of the owner or situations detrimental to public health and safety might make a demolition necessary.

In evaluating each application for a demolition permit, the Historic District Commission will review the architectural or historic value or significance of the building, as well as its relationship to property in the surrounding area. The commission is to grant a “certificate of appropriateness” for the demolition only if the applicant shows:

– The building is of little or no historic significance because of its location, condition or modifications, and its demolition would be inconsequential to historic preservation needs of the area.

– The loss of the structure would not adversely affect the integrity of the Historic District, or the historic, architectural or aesthetic values of adjacent properties.

– The denial of a permit would cause the owner a hardship, as defined in existing city law.

New provisions would require the applicant to provide such information as a licensed engineer's report on the structural soundness of a building, an appraiser's estimate of the property's fair market value, a professional assessment of the economic feasibility of rehabilitating the building, and the price asked and offers received for the property within the previous two years.

Plaquemine's National Register Historic District includes 139 historic buildings in a variety of important architectural styles, several dating as far back as 1850.

In other action, the city council adopted a new ordinance on upgrading mobile homes currently located within the city. Some years ago some mobile homes were “grandfathered in” under a city law limiting mobile homes to restricted trailer parks.

If the original person grandfathered in decides to sell to someone else, new owner will not be grandfathered in; Selectman Lindon A. Rivet Jr. explained the new law.

The council also approved a hardship case for medical reasons for Cynthia A. Williams to place a trailer at her property at 59025 W. W. Harleaux Street.