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Restrictions on boarding houses get 1st OK

The Urban County Council Planning Committee took the first steps Tuesday toward new laws cracking down on boarding houses in Lexington neighborhoods of single-family homes.

The changes will go to the full council for discussion at its work session March 9. The measures could get first reading at council's meeting March 11.

Before any of the seven amendments can become law, they will have to be approved by council, then move to the city's Planning Commission for review and approval.

The council is responding to complaints from homeowners around the University of Kentucky who say landlords are putting huge additions on small houses, then renting the rooms — creating more noise, traffic and trash.

The amendments change how the zoning code defines family; a boarding house or lodging house; and a fraternity or sorority house.

■ The new definition allows up to four unrelated adults to live together sharing common living, sleeping and kitchen facilities. It provides for traditional definitions of family as any number of people related by blood, marriage or other legally authorized custodial relationship. Non-traditional family units that are stable and include more than four adults will not be prohibited.

■ Houses where landlords have built large vinyl-clad additions, then rented rooms to as many as 16 students. would be seen as boarding houses; these would not be permitted in single-family (R-1) and two-family (R-2) neighborhoods and would not be grandfathered in, City Attorney Rochelle Boland said.

■ A fraternity or sorority would have to be officially recognized by a college or university, and the owner of the house would have to get a conditional use permit.

Asked whether the definition of family could withstand a legal challenge, Boland said many court cases, including one in Kentucky, define family for purposes of land-use regulation.

Enforcement of the new laws would be mostly complaint-driven, said Linda Gorton, a councilwoman-at-large and chairwoman of the Planning Committee. "Who, specifically, would be charged with enforcement, that has not been 100 percent worked out," she said.

Attorney Dick Murphy, representing the Greater Lexington Apartment Association, said his group had "grave concerns over the new definition of family." The association wants five — not four — unrelated people to be considered a family under zoning definitions.

Landlord Craig Hardin, an officer of the Lexington Area Housing Association, told the Planning Committee: "My comment is, 'Are you kidding me?' I can't believe anyone in an election year would touch the definition of family." The amendments would prevent him from renting his five- and six-bedroom houses and "destroy their economic value," he said.

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