Fayette County

City to get tough on 'vinyl-box' owners

City officials will go to Fayette Circuit Court on Monday seeking a temporary injunction against homeowners who are operating six houses as boarding houses in single-family residential neighborhoods, a violation of the Lexington zoning codes.

The houses, owned by James Michael Haley and Michelle Haley, are at 1113, 1115 and 1201 Crescent Avenue, 200 University Avenue, 231 Forest Park and 453 Oldham Avenue.

By seeking the injunction, the city confronts a dispute that has arisen because landlords have taken small, World War II-era bungalows and made large additions, converting them into dorm-style rental units for students.

Residents say large numbers of students moving into single-family neighborhoods bring noise, multiple cars and litter, resulting in a degradation of once-affordable family neighborhoods.

Third District Councilwoman Diane Lawless said this is the first time the city has tried to limit large additions, frequently called vinyl boxes, by charging owners with violating the zoning code.

The density issues created by vinyl boxes are not confined to areas around campus, Lawless said. "It's a problem that exists in almost every district in the city."

Residents of neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky have complained in recent months to the university, the mayor's office, council representatives and the Student Housing Task Force about the proliferation of such add-ons, saying they create boarding houses.

"The issue of boarding houses in single-family neighborhoods has been one of the primary concerns of neighbors," said Molly Davis, president of the Elizabeth Street Neighborhood Association.

"It is a great start and very, very encouraging to hear," she said of the city's efforts to seek an injunction.

Often, when building plans are submitted for vinyl-box additions, the plans indicate a limited number of bedrooms, and other rooms are designated as a computer room, a library or an entertainment center, said Mayor Jim Newberry.

"Those uses are consistent with what the zoning code allows in single-family neighborhoods," he said.

Once built, however, all the rooms often become bedrooms.

"That's the problem," Newberry said. "The use is inappropriate."

The city targeted the Haleys because properties they own came to the city's attention in the course of safety- and fire-code inspections in the fall.

"We have filed suit because our efforts to work with them have not been productive," Newberry said.

The Haleys could not be reached for comment.

If the court finds for the city, the implications would be "huge," Newberry said.

"It would put teeth in our zoning code that haven't been there in the past," he said, adding that in the 35-year history of merged government, there has not been a concerted effort to make homeowners abide by neighborhood zoning laws.

For Newberry, the good news is that many of the houses with the oversize additions are "owned by a relatively small group of owners looking to circumvent our zoning code.

"We are going to target those owners."

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