A "tsunami" of large, vinyl-clad additions is overtaking houses on Molly Davis' end of Elizabeth Street, she said, bringing with it hordes of University of Kentucky students who have changed the character of her once-quiet block.
"I've seen little houses with two or three people become houses with eight, nine or 10 people," said Davis, who has lived on the street 13 years. "This once was a neighborhood of affordable housing for young professionals and people who teach and work at UK."
Neighborhoods surrounding UK's campus, such as the Elizabeth Street corridor, are increasingly undergoing such metamorphoses as the World War II-era neighborhoods attract landlords who convert houses into lucrative dorm-style rental units for students.
With the students come more cars, more noise and more trash. The resulting tension between longtime residents, landlords, UK and student tenants is bubbling to the forefront of public debate as the Urban County Council mulls several proposals to harness what some residents see as unregulated growth.
Even some students are sympathetic to their more permanent neighbors.
"It's not a family environment," said student Ross Finan, who lives on University Avenue. "There are too many college kids. Too many parties. Nobody should ever raise their kids in this environment unless you want to set them up for alcoholism."
A Student Housing Task Force report released last month called for limiting the population density in neighborhoods around campus — a recommendation that drew protests from dozens of students at city hall.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Diane Lawless has floated the idea of temporarily blocking houses around campus from swelling in size.
Lawless is drafting a proposed moratorium on increasing the size of a house in the city's Infill and Redevelopment District — much of the city's urban core inside New Circle Road — by more than 25 percent.
"Building inspection is handing out permits for large additions to single-family dwellings in rapid fire," she said.
Lawless said the city has approved 33 additions this year to homes in the 3rd and 5th council districts — the two closest to UK. Some are small, but several more than double the size of the house.
For instance, two houses in the 200 block of Forest Park went from less than 1,000 square feet apiece to more than 3,000 each. Lawless said her moratorium, which would likely last from six months to a year, would serve as time-out to give stakeholders a chance to come up with long-term solutions.
"The impact of every one of those houses that's turned into a de facto dorm is felt for 30 to 40 years," she told a group of city officials, neighborhood leaders, home builders and landlords on Friday.
Although only 24 percent of UK's 27,100 students live in university-provided housing on campus, UK officials have remained on the periphery of the housing debate so far.
"I think a lot of the issues could be resolved if we were enforcing the laws on the books right now," said UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.
Mayor Jim Newberry on Friday offered the first hints at new strategies the city will try in coming weeks to do just that.
He announced an effort to step up fire code inspections of large rental homes, which aren't regulated like apartment complexes. Those inspections, starting with reviews of 13 properties over the last two weeks, also could help the city better enforce zoning laws, he said.
"Already as a result of the work of the Fire Department, there are approximately a half-dozen or so properties that we believe ... may be operating in a fashion that's inconsistent with the applicable zoning laws," Newberry said at the news conference. "And we intend to take appropriate enforcement measures against those individuals."
For instance, a rental home in a residential zone might violate the law if it's set up like a boarding house, with many bedrooms and limited common space, said Dewey Crowe, director of the division of building inspection.
"The existence of a vinyl box doesn't always signal there's something not right — it's how they're utilizing that space," Crowe said. "That requires us to get in and take a look at it."
If inspectors find that a house in a residential neighborhood is indeed operating more like a boarding home, they will instruct the property owners to make changes or else risk being shut down by court order, Crowe said.
In addition, city officials are redesigning paperwork, such as construction permit applications, to make the appropriate uses of a remodeled house "crystal clear" to property owners, Crowe said.
Many are likely unaware their properties violate zoning laws because they've been given a thumbs up by city building inspectors, said Newberry. But those are two separate issues.
"We've been focusing in the remodeling area on the structures, now we're putting more emphasis on the use," he said.
'Seal of approval'
Meanwhile, the UK neighborhood coordinator for Lexington police, Officer Keith Gaines, is leading the construction of a Web site that will serve as a resource for house-hunting students. It would list rental properties that meet and exceed codes.
It's similar to a program at Ohio State University, in which the school's off-campus housing office created an inspection and rating system for properties.
While UK provides students with an off-campus housing guide, it hasn't established a rating system, said Lisa Higgins-Hord, assistant vice president for university engagement.
UK and city officials have worked together successfully on some neighborhood initiatives. For example, their "Game Day" plan has curbed illegal parking, loud parties and trash on football Saturdays.
"That plan has made a real difference," said David Burton, president of the University Area Housing Association, a group of 120 landlords. "If they could put that much effort into the rest of the year, that would take care of a lot of these problems neighbors complain about."
More enforcement would help, but Elizabeth Street residents Molly Davis and Kathy Franklin said the ultimate solution must include a long-term strategy prepared by the city and UK to deal with the expected growth of UK.
By 2020, the university hopes to increase its enrollment to 34,000.
"Instead of dumping 8,000 more students over the next 10 years into the community, they need to say this is how we plan to integrate them into the community, or this is how we plan to make their presence easier on the community," Franklin said. "Right now they just kind of dump."
UK leaders have pledged to be involved.
"Obviously we're concerned about this," said Tom Harris, vice president for university relations. "It's part of being a college town ... But we want to find a way to coexist with the community, with the neighborhoods."