NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – The former chief of the Jefferson Parish Fire Department has described the Belmont apartment complex as a ticking time bomb. Bellemont’s owner is a religious nonprofit that has racked up fines and law violations over the years. Now, says the former president, Dave Tibbetts, not much has changed there after a heated meeting with the head of the nonprofit.
For five years, Dave Tibbetts served as Chief Consolidated Fire Department of Jefferson Parish East Bank.
“We were spending a lot more time in that one compound than we normally would in the other compounds because of the problems,” Tibbets said.
Problems described in Bellemont’s Metairie include empty apartments with vagrants living inside, broken windows and deteriorating conditions. After years of dealing with local management of the GMF Preservation of Affordability Corporation, a fire in 2019 sparked outrage.
“A three-year-old lost his life,” Tibbets recalled.
Camryn Frank died in an apartment that, at the time, Tibbetts said, had no working smoke alarms.
Tibbetts stated “At that point we said no more dealings with management, we want to deal with the owner”.
The young girl’s death prompted Jefferson Parish leaders to ask Richard Hamlet, pastor and executive director of the nonprofit religious foundation that owns Bellemont, to come in from Tennessee for an in-person meeting.
“I remember him getting on the plane, I think he was on his own plane,” Tibbets said.
He continues: “We were told, ‘You gave us some promises.'”
Tibbits says that Hamlet assured them he would clean the property. The nonprofit also owns The Willows and Parc Fontaine complexes that we have reported extensively on.
“What we were looking for was fixing the shattered windows, securing the building so vagabonds couldn’t get in,” Tibbets recalled.
We asked if Hamlet had kept any of the promises he made at that meeting.
Tibbets replies, “Very few. The entire back of the complex had broken windows and broken sliding doors and things like that, and I would say maybe 25 percent of those were boarded up and bolted, and that’s it, it was very, very minor what was done.”
Neighbor Tiffany Galland says she hasn’t seen much progress, and explains, “I think homeless people live there too. There are broken windows that aren’t covered, some sliding glass doors open and I’ve seen homeless people come in and out.”
Galland tells us she is in constant fear for her safety and her home, which is bumping into the back of the Belmont.
“We’ve been told in years past, if this building goes up, and the wind’s in the right direction, those houses are gone.”
There’s no doubt this will happen, Tibbets says, given the homes’ proximity to the complex. On the day we visited Bellemont, a dumpster blocked a fire lane, which separates the Galland house from the back of the Bellemont. That is why Tibbetts says the last time he set foot on this property, before his retirement in July, he considered it a ticking time bomb, which he hoped would never catch fire again.
Bellemont’s property manager says she and her team try to resolve issues there in a timely manner, like broken windows and anything the parish’s law enforcement department cites. But the residents we spoke to disagree.
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