FOX 8 Defenders: Former JP Fire Chief calls Bellemont apartments a ticking time bomb

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 10:40 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The former chief of the Jefferson Parish Fire Department, calls the Bellemont apartment complex a ticking time bomb. The owner of the Bellemont is a religious non-profit that’s racked up fines and code violations over the years. Now, the former chief, Dave Tibbetts, says not much has changed there after a heated meeting with the head of the non-profit.

For five years, Dave Tibbetts served as the chief of the Jefferson Parish East Bank Consolidated Fire Department.

“We were spending a lot of time at that one complex compared to what we would normally spend at other complexes because of the problems,” Tibbetts said.

The problems he describes at the Bellemont in Metairie include empty apartments with vagrants living inside, broken windows and run-down conditions. After years of dealing with local management for GMF Preservation of Affordability Corporation, a fire in 2019 ignited fury.

Tibbetts recalls, “It was a three year old child that lost their life.”

Kamryn Frank died in an apartment that Tibbetts said at the time, didn’t have working smoke alarms.

“At that point we said no more dealing with the management, we want to deal with the owner,” Tibbetts stated.

The little girl’s death prompted Jefferson Parish leaders to demand that Richard Hamlet, the reverend and CEO of the religious non-profit that owns the Bellemont, come in from Tennessee for an in person meeting.

“I remember he flew in, I believe on his own private jet,” Tibbetts said.

He continues, “We were told, we were given some promises.”

Tibbetts says Hamlet assured them he would clean up the property. The non-profit also owns The Willows and Parc Fontaine, complexes we’ve reported on extensively.

“What we were looking for was to board up the windows that were broken, secure the building so vagrants couldn’t get in,” Tibbetts remembered.

We asked if Hamlet followed through with any of the promises made in that meeting.

Tibbetts responds, “Very little. The whole rear of the complex had broken windows, broken sliding doors and things like that, I would say maybe 25 percent of those were closed and boarded up and that’s it, it was very, very minor what was done.”

Neighbor Tiffany Galland says she hasn’t seen much progress, explains, “I think that homeless people are also living in there. There are broken windows that are not boarded up, some of the sliding glass doors are open and I have seen homeless people coming in and out.”

Galland tells us she’s in constant fear for her safety and for her home, that butts up against the back of the Bellemont.

“We’ve been told in years past, if this building goes up, with the wind in the right direction, these houses are gone.”

Tibbetts says there’s no question that will happen, given the houses close proximity to the complex. On the day we visited the Bellemont, a dumpster blocked a fire lane, the one separating Galland’s home from the back of the Bellemont. This is why Tibbetts says the last time he stepped foot on this property, before his retirement in July, he considered it to be a ticking time bomb, one he hopes won’t catch fire again.

The property manager for the Bellemont says she and her team do try to fix problems there in a timely manner, like broken windows and anything that’s cited by the parish’s code enforcement department. But residents we spoke to, disagree.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.