Blight committee mulls harsher penalties, begins studying issue

The Business Report

A group of government and business leaders today raised the possibility of bolstering enforcement and changing policies surrounding blight in the parish, part of a multipronged effort to stem the widespread and long-standing issue.

The meeting at City Hall represented the first of many for the newly created Metro Council Blight Committee. The group will evaluate local policies, look to other cities for best practices and work with Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and her Blight Strike Force to take on the issue.

Among those at the meeting were representatives from law enforcement, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Congressman Garret Graves’ office, with officials pointing to the impact blight has on crime, economic development, business and property value, as well as quality-of-place, which BRAC has turned an eye toward recently.

Claire Herthum, who owns Artvark, Ltd. Art & Interiors near downtown, lambasted the current blight situation in the area surrounding her business, saying she is negotiating a lease for a new location—in part because of the blighted properties near her current store.

“People have a choice about where they want to do business,” said Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who led the meeting along with Councilman Matt Watson.

Watson and Councilman LaMont Cole recently passed a measure that increased fines for blight to $1,000 for the first offense, $3,000 for the second offense and $5,000 for each offense after that. But today’s meeting brought a new round of discussions around increasing penalties—including threatening jail time.

The problem is not new; the committee briefly reviewed attempts and plans to stem blight during past mayoral administrations over the decades.

The first issue the committee plans to tackle is the illegal dumping of tires, which Wicker said has been a growing problem. The committee will eventually come up with recommendations for ordinance changes for the Metro Council, as well as administrative changes for Broome’s administration.

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