Published on: Nov 9, 2010 @ 13:52

Pretty much anyone who’s lived anywhere in New Orleans knows that the problems we face are not due to a lack of good laws, but a lack of enforcement of those laws.  Nowhere is this more concentrated than here in the French Quarter.  And nowhere else do the violations seem to involve such abuse of the land use and zoning ordinances.

Which brings us to 806 Conti Street.

The applicant (a “P. Young, ” according to Vieux Carre Commission records) got a permit from Safety and Permits to renovate the then-deli at 806 Conti, and to leave its use as a deli.  However, when VCC inspectors visited the building on Tuesday, September 7, they found that the work deviated greatly from the permit, to the point that it was obvious that the building was being converted into a bar.  This despite the permit, despite the occupational license limiting the use to a deli, and despite the fact that no change-of-use hearing had been held by the Vieux Carre Commission.  Naturally, the VCC issued a stop work order immediately.


The interior of 806 Conti as of September 7, 2010


That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t.

On Wednesday, September 8, the bar was up and running, in spite of the stop work order and the lack of proper permits from the city.  City officials shut it down.

On October 19, the matter was brought before the full Vieux Carre Commission.  Representatives of the business owner were present, and the commission and audience were crystal clear in their objections to the illegal operations.  VCPORA made a special point about the outrageousness of the flouting of the city’s laws, and that we would be very carefully watching this case.  The representatives assured all present that they would not reopen without the proper permits.

But no.

On October 23, an alert citizen notified the city and VCPORA that the bar was open again.   8th District Quality of Life officer Roger Jones (who came to work on his day off) wrote them up on a bevy of violations, including lack of proper permits to engage in business, to sell alcohol, and lack of an occupational license.

At this point, VCPORA and the VCC started ringing the alarm bells, and loudly.  We have seen too many examples of businesses morphing into illegal operations, whether they be delis turning into bars, grocery stores turning into t-shirt shops, or apartment buildings turning into illegal hotels.

On October 26, the matter came up before the VCC’s Architectural Committee.  Unfortunately, the business operator did not show up.  (Only the architect was in attendance.)

This bar opened AGAIN the night of Saturday, October 30.  According to citizen observers, the bar was open and serving drinks that evening.

All along, VCPORA has been urging the city to take formal and forceful action to physically prevent this rogue bar from reopening.  We have suggested chaining the doors, as the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission does routinely when a bar is operating illegally.  We have suggested removing the electrical meter.  To our knowledge, none of this has happened.

On October 28, we were informed by Deputy CAO Ann Duplessis that she had convened a meeting with representatives of the operator, along with Paul May and Ed Horan of Safety and Permits, Romy Samuel of Revenue, and Nolan Marshall in the city attorney’s office, and that the owner’s reps had agreed not to operate it as a bar until or unless they had the proper permits.

While we applaud the (most recent) closure of this illegal bar, VCPORA strongly believes that there should be consequences for flagrantly and repeatedly breaking the law that go beyond just having to stay closed.  This is the email that VCPORA director Meg Lousteau sent to a string of city officials and neighbors on November 4 in response:

Dear all – we understand from Councilwoman Gisleson Palmer’s office that city officials met today with the operator of this establishment, and received assurances that they will not open again until or unless they have the proper permits.

(Apparently, they may decide to open as a restaurant, which is of concern due to the city’s lack of enforcement against restaurants that morph into bars, but that’s another matter.)

Our question is, will there be any punitive action taken against these operators for the numerous violations of city code, and possible state law, that they have undeniably committed?  Otherwise, the message is: go ahead and do whatever you want for as long as you can get away with it.

I know that this administration is committed to fair practices for everyone, and equal enforcement of the law.  Fairness – and common sense – demand that there be consequences for violations, so that the “good guys” aren’t undercut by rule breakers, and so that there is meaningful deterrence.

Please let us know what action the city will take on this.

Best regards, Meg Lousteau

To date, VCPORA has not yet gotten a response from the administration.