Vieux Carre Commisison somehow overlooks decade-old unpermitted demolition of ‘significant’ Gov. Nicholls Street building

(Photo: 729 Gov. Nicholls St. | Kevin Minsky)
A building located on a Governor Nicholls Street property that received approval for a partial demolition was instead completely leveled a decade ago, although the Vieux Carre Commission didn’t notice it was gone until March, according to documents.

The missing structure was revealed in a Jan. 22 VCC hearing for a proposed renovation at 729 Governor Nicholls St. and later confirmed in March after the commission regained access to digital records, which showed the building in the rear of the property received emergency approval to remove its upper right-hand portion in 2009 due to “imminent danger of collapse,” according to a property report released at the June 10 Architecture Committee meeting.

But the entire building, which sat in the rear side of the L-shaped property, was likely demolished without approval in late 2009 or early 2010, the report said. An October 2019 cyber attack on New Orleans’s computer systems initially prevented the VCC from making the discovery, however the violation went overlooked for 10 years.

The VCC is a regulatory body tasked to preserve the visual character of the French Quarter, which is also a designated national landmark, and uses a color-ranking system to assign historical or architectural importance.

The Governor Nicholls Street building was yellow-rated, which “contributes to the character of the district,” and requires a level 2 or “significant” work permit.

A description of the building wasn’t provided, although demolition is rarely considered appropriate, according to the VCC.

Online records from the Historic New Orleans Collection indicate the property was first surveyed in 1722 and eventually contained a 4-room house, servant’s quarters and other structures.

“Although the unpermitted demolition of a contributing building is never acceptable, staff notes that the current owners only purchased the property in 2019 and were not involved at the time of the demolition,” VCC staff wrote in the property report.

Staff inquired if the current property owners were interested in reconstructing the building, but they wanted to keep the space open, the report said.

Commissioner Stephen Bergeron inquired whether the VCC could fine the previous owner for the unauthorized demolition, but that wasn’t clear.

Additionally, the current owner could also take legal action against the former owner, according to the report.

However, staff director Bryan Block said the VCC could require the current owner to rebuild the structure, but added the only reasons why staff approved of keeping the building demolished is because the current owner was unaware of the violation and staff wasn’t alerted because the structure wasn’t visible from the street.