Code violators given new hearing option

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, April 20, 2016

St. John Parish hopes system tweak adds due process, more accountability

LAPLACE — Before they make it all the way to court, open St. John the Baptist Parish code violators will soon have the opportunity for a hearing.

Planning and Zoning director Alex Carter said a new ordinance approved by the Parish Council this month is for those found in violation of a zoning code and did not fix the problem.

“We send a code officer out; they do a report and they issue a violation if in fact a violation is found,” Carter said. “At that point, there is usually a time period where a property owner is given the opportunity to willingly bring the violation into compliance. If they do that, we just close the file. If they don’t willingly bring it into compliance, we used to send people to court.”

This new ordinance, which was voted in favor April 12, is going to change the old procedure.

“Recently, we were made aware that the procedure didn’t allow due process,” Carter said. “So what we’ve done is establish this administrative hearing procedure to enable an appeal process. We sort of inserted a meeting between the violation and the court that is handled by parish government.”

District 5 Councilman Michael Wright said instituting hearings before code violators are brought to court will make a big difference in expediting some resolutions to a lot of the pending violations.

“We want code violators to know that, No. 1, they will have their fair chance at a due process,” Wright said. “No. 2, the Parish is trying to take appropriate measures to ensure accountability on both ends, from the parish level and the resident’s level.”

Carter said, ideally, cases get resolved with this new procedure, and there is no need to take the issue to court and create case congestion.

“The new processes also gives the alleged violator the right to appeal, so if they don’t agree with the decision of the hearing officer, then they can appeal it to the court,” she said. “Before they couldn’t do that.”

Code violations can be a variety of things for residential and commercial properties, anything from operating without proper permits or having hazardous or unsafe buildings on a property.

“As I understand it today, there are a number of open violations that we’re having to move forward with,” Carter said. “Those are the ones that we’re most concerned with. I don’t have an exact number, but I would definitely say that we have our work cut out for us. We’re going to try and move as many through the process as quickly as possible to start resolving open violation cases.”

Carter said a meeting with between the Parish and District Attorney’s Office is in the works to figure out when hearings can begin.