At issue | Feb. 9 Herald-Leader article, "Council fails to stop fraternity house plan; Vote to deny zone change for Phi Gamma Delta 'study lodge' falls two short of majority"
Two of Lexington's greatest assets are the Aylesford and Columbia Heights neighborhoods which border the eastern edge of the University of Kentucky campus.
Until the late 1970s, most of the area residents were elderly people who had lived there since the 1940s or 1950s. As these older residents died, the housing evolved into student rental property.
Now, as more dorm space has opened on campus and more desirable student housing has been built to the west of campus, this area is emptying out; "For Sale" and "For Rent" signs, unheard of in the recent past when the area was student housing, are everywhere.
It is unfortunate that the city, instead of seizing this opportunity to use this neighborhood to further its own long-term goals, is beginning to dismantle it.
The latest decision by the Urban County Council to allow a fraternity to tear down two single-family houses at Columbia and Woodland to build a study dorm comes close on the heels of the possible demolition of three houses on Maxwell for a sorority.
The potential for the Aylesford/Columbia Heights neighborhoods is enormous. Studies have shown that Lexington is woefully lacking in affordable housing; many people who would prefer to live in Lexington are forced to live outside Fayette County.
Well, here is the affordable housing we need; and we do not even have to bulldoze our farmland to build it. The housing is in an incredibly desirable neighborhood where people can walk to UK, Chevy Chase, Rupp Arena and downtown.
And there is a demand for this housing. The little bit of upturn in the Lexington housing market last December was primarily in the area of affordable housing. Realtors are predicting that as the recession ends, affordable housing will be where most of the market demand will be.
Also, younger, first-time home buyers are turning away from McMansions toward smaller living spaces and away from the suburbs toward downtown. The Aylesford/Columbia Heights area complements this housing trend.
To some extent, UK reminds me of the University of Chicago. Each school sits just south of its respective downtown, nestled into older residential neighborhoods. By the 1950s, the area around the University of Chicago had deteriorated to such a point that the university actually considered moving. Rather than move, it sank millions of dollars into subsidies for employees who wanted to live in the area and turned the neighborhood around. The university now claims that 83 percent of its employees walk or bike to work.
Lexington has the largest per capita carbon footprint of any city in America. Think what it would do for the city environmentally if we could get 83 percent of UK employees off Nicholasville Road during rush hour. And no one needs to subsidize these neighborhoods; just leave the housing alone and let market forces go to work. But this will happen only if desirable housing remains available.
Most homeowners do not want the noise, trash, parking problems and general property degradation that goes with student housing. Many will not buy surrounding properties, making the impact on the neighborhood far greater than just the lots rezoned.
So often, as a city, we say we want one thing, then do the very thing that precludes achieving our goal.
We want affordable housing. We are pushing a program of "live where you work." We want to reduce our carbon footprint, save our rural landscape, encourage biking and walking and solve our traffic problems without spending money to rebuild the infrastructure.
The Aylesford/Columbia Heights area could advance all these goals. So, the city should be actively protecting these neighborhoods, not dismantling them. With the availability of the Aylesford/Columbia Heights neighborhoods, Lexington has essentially won the lottery. Unfortunately, studies show one-third of all people who win $500,000 or more in the lottery eventually file for bankruptcy.
With careful management of this area, Lexington could be part of the two-thirds who manage to hold on to their winnings and maybe even leverage that into something greater for our community.