Metro Council to weigh license fees in debate over boarding hous - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Metro Council to weigh license fees in debate over boarding houses

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Metro Council is considering licensing owners of boarding houses as a way to address concerns about the possibly illegal spread of short-term living quarters in western Louisville.

The Planning/Zoning, Land Design and Development Committee on Tuesday began debating a measure sponsored by councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton that would impose a yearlong moratorium on transitional housing in the Shawnee and Chickasaw neighborhoods in order to study zoning regulations.

The committee took no action on the proposal, but Hamilton (D-5th District) called the nearly 1 ½-hour discussion a “good first step.”

Residents in the western Louisville neighborhoods want the council to ensure that rooming houses and other transitional homes are properly regulated and follow the city’s zoning requirements.

But inspectors have little oversight in Chickasaw and Shawnee, which are zoned for higher-density living and where structures can be turned into rooming houses without notifying the city.

“I think this will give us an opportunity to survey the community, to survey these buildings, these owners, to see exactly how they’re functioning,” Hamilton said.

Although her proposal targets “transitional housing,” the council committee focused in on “boarding and lodging,” or rooming, houses.

Those buildings are allowed no more than eight residents and must have a shared kitchen, according to city land-use rules.  Unlike “transitional” accommodations, they don’t have to offer professional support services.

Yet establishing a boarding house is fairly easy in zoning districts where such uses are allowed “by right,” said Jim Mims, the city’s Codes and Regulations director. For example, Mims acknowledged that inspectors aren’t required to determine that a shared kitchen exists, or that the building has proper fire exits.

Mims said planning officials don’t know how many boarding houses exist in Louisville or, as residents of Chickasaw and Shawnee claim, whether they are concentrated in certain neighborhoods.

“These boarding homes attract certain groups of individuals that may be of concern to our youths and our families and in the community,” Donovan Taylor, President of the Chickasaw Federation Inc., told the committee.

Taylor said neighborhood property values and an alleged increase in sex offenders are two concerns, as are turning entire blocks into boarding houses.

Besides neighbors not being apprised of plans for rooming houses, “it may not be well for those particular individuals because you’re not necessarily removing them from the environment from which they left,” such as prison, Taylor said.

Committee chair Madonna Flood (D-24th District) and committee member Kelly Downard (R-16th) both said they support licensing boarding houses. Downard called that approach a “much quicker fix” than rezoning or other ideas.

Flood said a licensing requirement would hold the owners of boarding houses accountable, as well as generate tax revenue.

“That gives you control over where they’re locating and to hold something over their head that if they’re taking advantage of the situation – like moving people in and taking advantage of those people – that then they don’t get to operate in the city of Louisville,” Flood said.

And, to Chickasaw Park-area resident Lynn McCrary, who attended the meeting, residents would be notified.

“At least we would know what’s coming,” she said in an interview. “We don’t want to find out after the fact because after the fact it’s harder to get rid of a problem area.”

Hamilton said a citywide study of transitional housing may be needed. For example, she told the committee, that city records show only one conditional-use permit for such housing in her western Louisville district since 2011 – although “quite a number of properties” have been converted to boarding houses since then.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Chickasaw resident Lisa Reynolds said she supports a larger review of short-term housing.

“This needs to be a study that’s across the whole Metro area in order to get data showing where there is a concentration of these types of boarding houses and lodging houses, and to see if one area is taking on the burden.”

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