UK students protest housing plans

University of Kentucky students and landlords converged on city hall Tuesday to oppose the top two recommendations from a task force set up to examine student housing issues.

The first recommendation would set a density standard on the number of student houses allowed in neighborhoods.

The second would require all rental property to be licensed by the city and subject to regular inspections. Both recommendations would apply county-wide, and opponents said both would be a logistical nightmare to implement.

About 40 students, organized by the UK Student Government Association, marched from campus to protest the report's proposals.

Areas targeted by the task force surround the UK campus and include Elizabeth Street, Transylvania Park, Columbia Heights and Alyesford Place.

The report was unveiled at the Planning Committee meeting of the Urban County Council. It looks at student rental housing and the effect of a high density of students on neighborhoods. Problems include noise, parking, litter and poor maintenance of the houses by landlords.

Developer Bill Lear spoke against the proposed rental license, saying there are more than 6,000 rental housing units within 2 miles of campus. Thousands of students move out, replaced by thousands who move in, he said. "It happens at the same time. It would take hundreds of inspectors" to inspect all those units, Lear said.

At Tuesday's meeting that packed council chambers and overflowed into the first floor ballroom, 80 people signed up to speak. Each was allotted three minutes.

Hays Cannon, a junior from Georgetown who lives on South Upper Street, brought a chuckle from everyone when he expressed understanding at the underlying problem: "You don't want us in your neighborhood. We don't want to be in your neighborhood."

"We would love to work with the city and the university to solve these problems," Cannon said, adding that "the reason we live where we do is to be close to campus."

Mike Meuser, chairman of the Student Housing Task Force that met monthly for 15 months, said the group looked at whether existing laws are being adequately enforced.

"Not really," said Meuser, a homeowner in the Alyesford neighborhood. Landlords, neighbors and students want enforcement, but they want the enforcement to be fair, he said.

Among eight task force recommendations that Meuser called "no-brainers" were lifting the hiring freeze on more code enforcement officers and substantially increasing maximum fines for violations.

"We urge you to deal with those as quick as possible. They will make a difference," Meuser said.

The report does not deal with oversize additions on the back of houses that Meuser called "vinyl boxes."

"That's a separate issue," he said.

Several speakers expressed support for the the third recommendation by the task force, called the "Ohio State University plan." It would set up an Off Campus Housing Office to inspect and grade property so students and parents know the condition.

Lexington police officer Keith Gaines, assigned to work with neighborhoods near campus, developed a similar plan tailored to UK. It was included as an appendix to the task force report.

Gaines would set up a 50-house pilot program that could be implemented immediately, he said. A key to success is "to get UK to let these houses be listed on the university Web site."

Landlord Craig Hardin, representing the University Area Housing Association, said all task force members supported the Ohio State plan, except for the UK representatives.

A special meeting of the Planning Committee was set for 1 p.m. Oct. 5 in council chambers to hear comments from people who did not have a chance to speak Tuesday.

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