A drawn-out battle over the right to gate a public street reached a milestone Tuesday when a Civil Court judge ruled in favor of keeping Newcomb Boulevard open.
Residents of Newcomb Boulevard, a ritzy Uptown neighborhood parallel to even ritzier Audubon Place, in 2006 got the go-ahead from the city’s Department of Public Works to block the Freret Street end of the block that runs to St. Charles Avenue.
Two neighborhood associations – The Maple Area and Carrollton Riverbend groups – struck back. The City Council must approve any requests for street closures, they argued, not Public Works.
On Tuesday, Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris agreed.
The judge also ruled that the city violated state law in allowing a private neighborhood group to pay for fencing off a public street.
In coming to his determination, Bagneris cited a city-financed study that found traffic on Newcomb Boulevard not excessive. Newcomb residents had argued that Tulane University students brought a high-volume of traffic to the area. Then-public works director John Shires ignored the study when he gave residents the go-ahead, Bagneris said.
Bagneris’ ruling marks an initial victory for fence foes, but isn’t the end of the squabble, Keith Hardie, a neighborhood resident who was the suit’s named plaintiff, said Wednesday. Newcomb Boulevard residents or the city could appeal the case or petition the City Council to close the street, he said.
“We hope the council will recognize that public streets are for the public,” Hardie said. “A street is needed for public circulation in a congested university area.”
Thomas McEachin, the attorney for the Newcomb residents, said the defendants definitely plan to appeal the ruling. He said the suit was brought by “a few disgruntled neighbors” and that the fence went up to enhance public safety.
“In 2006, the Newcomb Boulevard Association precisely followed the application process, as explained by the City,” a statement from McEachin said. "To be told, six years later, that the Association should have followed an entirely different procedure is very disappointing, and, we believe, legally incorrect.”
For now the fence still stands.