University of Kentucky fraternity gets go-ahead for off-campus study lodge

578 Woodland Ave. in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday Feb. 8, 2011. Phi Gamma Delta wants to raze both these homes and build in their place a "study/meeting facility" with some limited residential space. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
578 Woodland Ave. in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday Feb. 8, 2011. Phi Gamma Delta wants to raze both these homes and build in their place a "study/meeting facility" with some limited residential space. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

A rezoning proposal that would allow a University of Kentucky fraternity to raze two houses near campus to build a fraternity house will proceed after the Urban County Council failed to generate enough votes to reject the project.

The council voted 6-5 Thursday against the zoning proposal. But eight votes — or a majority of the full council — were needed to overturn a Planning Commission recommendation in favor of the project.

Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, which has about 50 members, was seeking the zoning change for houses at 578 Woodland Avenue and 505 Columbia Avenue. The houses are to be demolished to make way for a two-story, 1,900-square-foot house described as a study lodge.

The council's vote came after a lengthy meeting Tuesday in which neighbors said the fraternity house would exacerbate parking problems in the area.

Neighbors also expressed concern that the decision to rezone might open the door for other similar requests in Columbia Heights, an area zoned R-1 and R-2, which allows only single-family houses and duplexes.

The houses to be torn down "look like crap," said Janet Cowan, who lives at 612 Columbia Avenue. But she asked the council not to make a bad situation worse. "There is no parking in this area," she said.

Columbia Heights is between the Aylesford historic neighborhood and the UK campus.

The proposed house would have two bedrooms where four fraternity members would live, plus six off-street parking spaces. Most members would walk or bike to the house, fraternity officials said.

Asked by council members what activities would take place in the house, Ben Simmons, project associate at EOP architectural firm, said there would be no parties. "We are very serious about that," he said. Simmons also said the building would be alcohol- and tobacco-free.

The house would be a place where members would study, drop by between classes or have parents' weekends, recruitment events and pledge meetings.

The Planning Commission voted 8-0 in November to grant conditional approval for the zone change request. That recommendation was forwarded to the council, which has the final vote on all zone changes.

At the public hearing Tuesday, Jimmy Emmons, senior planner with the city's professional planning staff, told council members that a fraternity house was an appropriate use at the location because it is adjacent to the UK campus and close to a significant number of other Greek organizations.

Simmons said the fraternity would pursue LEED platinum environmental certification for the building. Storm water from the property would be directed into a storage tank and reused in the building and for landscape irrigation. Bathrooms would have low-flow plumbing fixtures, and the house would be heated using a geothermal system. New trees would be planted to replace ones removed during demolition.

Ted Cowan, a resident of Columbia Heights, said he was particularly concerned because this was the first time a fraternity or sorority would have a building on the east side of Woodland Avenue. At the Planning Commission meeting in the fall, he said neighbors questioned whether that would create a precedent for more Greek organizations "marching down Columbia Avenue."

Neighbor Kate Savage said fraternity buildings belong on campus, not in residential neighborhoods. She questioned the need for a study lodge, pointing out that the fraternity would be across the street from the William T. Young Library.

Voting against the zoning change were Peggy Henson, Steve Kay, Diane Lawless, Tom Blues, Chris Ford and Vice Mayor Linda Gorton. Voting in favor of the zone change were Jay McChord, Kevin Stinnett, KC Crosbie, Chuck Ellinger and Bill Farmer.

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