Fayette County

Council to hear housing changes

The Urban County Council will consider zoning-law changes Tuesday aimed at reducing population density in neighborhoods near the University of Kentucky.

The proposed amendments are intended to crack down on landlords who convert small, World War II-era houses into lucrative dorm-style rental units for students.

The seven amendments, if approved, will include changes in how the zoning code defines a family, a boarding house and a fraternity and sorority house.

The council work session comes after Mayor Jim Newberry's meetings behind closed doors with a group of neighborhood landlords, residents and city staff members in the past two weeks.

Newberry declined to discuss specifically the nature of his talks, but he said Monday he initiated the meetings because "my sense is that as things have begun to come to a head, that the opportunities for people to become more focused and intent to find a compromise has been enhanced."

On Monday, 4th District Councilman Julian Beard was critical of Newberry's tactic of holding private meetings.

The Student Housing Task Force has been meeting on related issues for two years, and Beard said it "does not work well" for two entities in government to work on parallel tracks. "They don't converge and cross pollinate."

Third District Councilwoman Diane Lawless, whose district encompasses many of the university neighborhoods, said of the mayor's meetings: "It's within his legal right. I'll listen to any idea anybody has that might be a solution."

The council will decide Tuesday whether to place the proposed amendments on the agenda for Thursday's regular council meeting.

If the council approves the amendments, the proposals would move to the city's Planning Commission for review and approval.

The text amendments would allow up to four unrelated adults to live together as a family sharing common living, sleeping and kitchen facilities.

The limit of four adults would not apply to traditional families, which would be defined as any number of people related by blood, marriage or other legally authorized custodial relationship.

The changes also clarify the definition of a boarding house as a place with sleeping rooms for rent for five or more people, and where food costs are not shared. Exterior locks would be on bedroom doors, and each person would pay his or her rent.

Houses where landlords have built large additions, then rented rooms to as many as 16 students, would be considered boarding houses. These would not be permitted in single-family (R-1) and two-family (R-2) neighborhoods and would not be grandfathered in, said city attorney Rochelle Boland.

A new definition of fraternity or sorority says the organization has to be officially recognized by a college or university. The owner of the house would have to get a conditional-use permit.

Fifth District Councilwoman Cheryl Feigel recommended last week at a meeting of the council's Planning Committee, where the text amendments were hammered out, that the council not consider defining a family until Newberry's group makes its recommendations.

But 2nd District Councilman Tom Blues said he had problems with attempts to "slow down an issue that we have been working on, on some level, for several years."

"What has been going on for a long time is the destruction of neighborhoods and economic values," Blues said. "It is time for the full council to debate this issue."

Newberry said his group is not on a specific timetable. He did not know when or even if they might make a recommendation.

Molly Davis, president of the Elizabeth Street Neighborhood Association, said she went into the first of Newberry's meetings optimistic. "But by the end of the second meeting, it's more of the same," she said.

Davis said she was not comfortable "looking to people I see as the agents of destruction — the landlords — as coming to some agreeable arrangement."

And with the mayor involved, "It makes this a political issue in an election year," she said.

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