Transylvania University to demolish eight homes for new parking near campus

554 West Fifth Street, one of the houses planned for demolition near Transylvania University in Lexington.
554 West Fifth Street, one of the houses planned for demolition near Transylvania University in Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

Bourbon Avenue in Lexington could get messy and dusty in the next month as Transylvania University demolishes more than a half-dozen houses to make room for more parking near the downtown campus.

The liberal arts school has applied for demolition permits for eight houses on or near Bourbon Avenue, which is between West Fourth and West Fifth streets. The neighborhood, comprised mainly of shotgun-style and smaller homes built in the 1910s, is between Broadway and Jefferson streets.

Not all eight houses are being razed for a parking lot; some of the homes are being torn down because the university got a better price for demolition if more houses were razed at the same time, said Marc Mathews, vice president for finance and business at Transylvania.

The university is building two new dorms to replace the aging and antiquated Clay and Davis residence halls. Construction began this summer, and the university lost parking spots because of the construction. At first, Transylvania officials thought there would be more than enough parking to compensate for the loss of spots behind Clay and Davis halls. And technically, it does.

"We have four times the amount of parking that is required," Mathews said. "But we have pledged to the neighborhood that we would not push our student parking onto neighborhood streets. We decided to go ahead and construct a parking lot to make up for the loss of parking."

The parking lot will be temporary but will be paved, Mathews said. It will start in the middle of the 400 block of Bourbon Avenue and will probably have 100 parking spaces. Mathews said the design details are being worked out.

The city's Board of Adjustment approved the plans for the parking lot at a meeting earlier this summer. Some of the applications for the demolition permits, which were filed in late July, have been held for 30 days while the city's historic preservation department conducts an assessment of the homes.

Once the 30 days expires, the permits can be issued, and demolition can begin in 24 hours, said Dewey Crowe, head of the city's building inspection division.

That means demolition might not begin until late August or early September.

The addresses of homes set to be razed include 417, 425, 429, 440, 441, 442 Bourbon Avenue, 554 West Fifth Street and 475 West Pilgrim Court.

The homes are not historically significant. Still, officials with the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation said they are concerned that razing so many properties will change that neighborhood. The trust's office on Market Street is across the street from Transylvania's campus.

"Any time that much property comes down, there is concern," said Sheila Omer Ferrell, executive director of the trust. "We are looking into it. There has been so much positive growth in that area, and we want it to continue. We hope to have conversations with Transylvania's new president, Seamus Carey. We want to be good neighbors."

Mathews said the homes being torn down could not be saved. Most were in deplorable condition. A brick house on Bourbon didn't have any central air or heat. Most were rental homes with absentee landlords.

"A few of them, the wind could take them down," Mathews said. "We looked at a lot of them to see if we could use them for visiting faculty housing. But we could not restore them and make them usable."

The university has worked with the city on homes in the area that have multiple code violations. Transylvania has bought some of those homes and has agreed to pay for demolition in exchange for the city dropping the previous owner's fines for code violations, Mathews said.

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