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Homeowners and Council Members continue to square off

[excerpt of email submitted by homeowner Kate Savage to Council Member Cheryl Feigel.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010 1:01 PM
To: Cheryl B Feigel
Cc: Jim Newberry – Mayor; Diane Lawless; Jim Gray; Kevin Stinnett; Julian Beard; Peggy Henson; KC Crosbie; Charles Ellinger II; George Myers; Linda Gorton; Tom Blues; Andrea James; Jay McChord; Doug Martin
Subject: Neighbourhood Rezoning

Council Member Feigel:

I was out of town for last Tuesday’s Planning Committee meeting.  However, since getting back I have taken time to watch the GTV3 archived broadcast.

I was utterly astonished by your suggestion that the neighbourhoods adjacent to the university be turned into a newly created zone for “students,” similar in theory to zones designated for “commerce” or “industry”.

Was this idea not discussed at length during the Housing Task Force meetings? This Task Force was made up of all interested parties, and you served on it. The consensus was that this was a bad idea. But now, out of the blue, as if you’d trumped the ace, you present this idea as neoteric.

I have lived in my house on Columbia Avenue since 1990.  I bought it as a single parent in my late thirties. The properties here were affordable. My reasons for the choice of this neighbourhood reflect those of other residents. I was close to my work, my son could walk or ride his bike to school, then later to college, the community was diverse, decent, and all the amenities of life were close by. For twenty years I have sat on this egg, it is the only investment I have. I have pinched at times to make the mortgage, I have scrimped and saved to make repairs, improve the landscaping, replace worn out furnishings. My son grew up here. Our pets are buried in the back yard. It’s the only house I’ve owned. It is my home.

Do you think I should roll over whilst you propose condemning my neighbourhood by rezoning it to R3? Sit here and watch a transient population of students wash in and wash out year after year?  See my investment shrivel up with the decline of the area as house after house is transformed to accommodate 8-10 individuals? Allow you to rubber stamp the scofflaw behaviour of avaricious landlords by giving them the nod to continue converting small cottages and bungalows into massive rental units?  Be part of a firewall for your District 5? 

The affordability of the houses here has been shamelessly exploited, the needs of a ready made population requiring accommodation exploited, the ambiguities of the zoning ordinances and the failure of repeated governments to enforce them exploited.  Landlords have been laughing as they take their money to the bank in wheelbarrows.  And you have the audacity to suggest that all this be sanctioned with a zone change?

I know I’ve said it before, and I really don’t care what the Legal Department’s opinion is but, as a landlord and property owner in this neighbourhood, you should have recused yourself from all discussion on this topic a long time ago. How other than self-serving can your suggestions be perceived?

I imagine that UK has been glad to have permanent residents interspersed throughout the ambient neighbourhoods, acting as a buffer, providing stability, maintaining standards, keeping a check on behavioural issues in loco parentis. Take away the residents and in no time the normalizing balance and what’s left of the neighbourhood integrity will vanish.  Every day will be Game Day!  I can’t imagine this picture is one UK would wish to entertain.

Absentee landlords who have amassed large portfolios of property in this neighbourhood are now crying “foul.”  They have the jitters. They fear their game is up. There was talk of licenses and inspections. Their unscrupulous practices have been exposed.  They’ve been tumbled to. They talk peevishly about having invested in the community. Ha! Their interpretation of this is different to mine. They have dumped a lot of money in these neighbourhoods building large scale additions to maximize their profits. They have not altruistically invested in improving and enhancing the neighbourhood, merely plundering it. They are worried about their investments. I don’t blame them. I’ve been worried about mine too!

The Council needs to show its teeth. As Doug Martin said “this problem is the ghost of councils past”.  But we do not need your senseless nostrum.  It’s time to admonish the bad guys, not reward them.  What sort of precedent are you setting? …

Kate Savage

Excerpt of Response email from Council Member Cheryl Feigel

Ms. Savage—Thank you for sharing your views with me.  Unfortunately,  I believe you read more into my comments that what I said.  I wasn’t talking about your neighborhood or any other neighborhood in particular as a student zone.  My comment was to say that this is a community problem that has gone too long unaddressed. We have allowed student populations to settle at will, rather than designating a place for them to go. My suggestion is to very fundamentally grasp the real problem and address it so that everyone’s neighborhood is protected. In fact, it was an article from the American Planning Association given to us by the Law Department that suggested the idea of creating a zone—so that everyone knew what to expect.

On a couple occasions, I have talked with the Mayor about working with UK and the Governor to approach this issue from an economic development issue. Housing is needed and there are large old warehouse areas that need to be redeveloped. If we created an incentive for developers to build additional developments like Center Court or the Lex, we could control where the majority of students actually reside. In fact, I’m working hard for a new development at Lexington Mall, which ideally would provide shuttles to UK. As you know, UK does not plan to house more than 25% of students on campus, for whatever their reasons are, even though they are striving to double enrollment.  However, UK is being pulled into this debate, and rightly so.  They should be a part of the ultimate plan for addressing student housing needs.  Obviously, this would not happen overnight but would begin to address this problem strategically so that it isn’t tossed from one council to another.

You have worked hard to make a lovely home for your children and you shouldn’t have to deal with the bad behavior of some of the UK students in the neighborhood.  However I must disagree with the current proposal to simply send them to another neighborhood.  That isn’t a solution, from my standpoint, merely shifting the problem.

I would like to work with a group of people who want to create a real solution for all of Lexington – one that protects all neighborhoods.  If you would like to talk more about the long term issue of student housing, I would be very happy to talk with you.

Again, thanks for your email.  Cheryl

Cheryl B. Feigel, 5th District Councilmember
Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government
cfeigel@lfucg.com



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