The Urban County Council is proposing changes to a controversial 2013 zoning ordinance for day services for the homeless.
Housing advocates have alleged the ordinance is discriminatory to the poor, and a federal investigation is trying to determine whether the city violated federal fair housing laws.
The 2013 change in zoning regulations restricted where day services for the homeless may be located. The ordinance requires anyone serving the homeless or the poor during daylight hours to receive special permission — a conditional-use permit — from the city.
The Urban County Council voted during Thursday's meeting to make key changes to the ordinance. Under the proposed changes, a day shelter for the homeless could be located in most of the city's business zones without getting special permission from the city. A day shelter would need a conditional-use permit — which would have to be approved by the Board of Adjustment — if it wanted to locate in a residential area or light industrial zone.
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The change in the zoning ordinance will be sent to the planning commission for its review. After the commission makes its recommendations, the ordinance will return to the council for final approval. The commission must make its recommendations within 60 days.
Housing advocates and those who serve the poor said the October 2013 ordinance is discriminatory and out of compliance with federal housing laws. Organizations that serve the rich would not need a special permit to operate but those that serve the poor and homeless during daylight hours would, they argued.
Since the ordinance was approved, no new day shelter for the homeless has opened.
That ordinance and other issues involving the location of Community Inn, a Winchester Road overnight homeless center, were part of a complaint filed by the Lexington Fair Housing Council and others against the city. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development investigated the complaint before turning it over to the U.S. Department of Justice for review.
That review is ongoing.
Art Crosby, executive director of the Lexington Fair Housing Council, said he was encouraged that the city had taken steps to make changes to the ordinance.
"We clearly had issues with the ordinance before because it delineated services for poor people versus people who are not poor," Crosby said. "Any effort to change that would be welcome."
The city did not ask for input from providers before making the proposed changes, Crosby said. The city first said it was going to review the ordinance after Crosby and others raised questions about the wording in March 2014. It has taken more than a year for those proposed changes to get before the council.
Councilwoman Peggy Henson said she supported the changes because the original ordinance made it nearly impossible for a new day shelter to open. Henson said that when the council first passed the ordinance, it was trying to balance the concerns of neighborhoods with the needs of homeless providers.
The council did not intend to make the original so restrictive, she said.
"When we passed it before, council's intentions were good. We wanted to protect neighborhoods, but we have to look at the human impact of it," Henson said. "We are going to continue to have these issues arise. I think this will make it equitable and fair."