city hallThe Louisville Metro Council passed an amendment to the Land Development Code Thursday night that will lift a ban on the construction of multifamily units in large areas of land in the city’s south and east, along with incentives for developers to mix in affordable housing.

Approved by an 18 to 2 vote, the Mixed Residential Development Incentive was one of the major recommendations of a multi-year subcommittee comprised of housing advocates and homebuilders aimed at tearing down institutional zoning barriers that are one of the causes of Louisville’s pronounced segregation in housing by race and income. In addition to ending the prohibition on multifamily units in areas zoned single-family, developers are eligible to increase the density of developments if 10 to 40 percent of the total units are multifamily, and 5 to 30 percent of the units are affordable. Those units deemed affordable would only be eligible for families whose income is less than 60 percent of the city median, or under $40,000 for a family of four.

Thursday’s vote also was spurred by a recent Supreme Court decision ruling that if a city’s zoning laws have a disproportionate effect on protected classes such as racial minorities, the municipalities can be held liable in court, regardless of whether that impact was intentional.

This amendment previously withstood a rigorous debate in the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Land Development Code, as committee chairman Councilman James Peden, R-23, sought an amendment that he argued would disperse such developments throughout the county by saying no two could be located within a mile of each other. Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, countered in committee that the mile limit would be an arbitrary restriction, and Metropolitan Housing Coalition director Cathy Hinko argued this might still leave the city at risk of being liable under the Supreme Court ruling. Peden’s amendment was dropped before its passage to the full council on Monday.

Though several council Democrats previously voiced the same concerns as Peden — fearing such developments may be clustered within their district — those Democrats came aboard Thursday, considering it a small but positive step forward for Louisville. In the Republican Caucus meeting shortly before the vote, Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, indicated to Peden that he agreed with Hollander, saying there was no reason to believe developers using the incentives would cluster them all within the same few districts.

In Thursday’s meeting, Councilwoman Julie Denton, R-19, joined Peden as the only opposition to MRDI on the council, arguing the zoning change would take away the rights of residents who previously would have been able to object to multifamily developments and increased traffic in their neighborhood.

“I think you are going to have a lot of unhappy people in the public, because I don’t think they understand we’re taking away their right to address zoning changes, because there won’t need to be a zoning change,” said Denton. “People buy property based upon what they think the area is like. And I’m not saying it’s bad to have affordable housing in your area, I don’t want anyone to take it that way. But I do worry about safety issues.”

Hollander argued the amendment was a necessary step toward addressing Louisville’s history of segregation, and the product of many years of work by housing advocates.

“I’m not going to tell you or anyone here that this will solve our housing problem or the economic segregation that we have in this community, because I don’t think that,” said Hollander. “But I think it’s something that might help, and we have to do something.”

After the vote, Hinko said she was thrilled there were only two votes against the amendment to the Land Development Code, but noted that two other major recommendations to amend the city’s zoning laws still need to be introduced and passed out of committee.

“I think it was historic,” said Hinko. “As Councilman Hollander expressed, it’s our first step, but it’s important. And it represents our commitment to diverse housing types being together and diverse people being together.”

Following the council’s vote, Mayor Greg Fischer released the following statement:

“Having housing that is affordable for families and that is available in all neighborhoods is critical for the current and future economic success of our city. These amendments to the land development code encourage developers through the use of incentives to build affordable housing in all parts of Louisville. Data from around the country proves that affordable housing in all parts of the community leads to increases in educational attainment and improved economic situations for families. Coupled with the city’s new Louisville CARES affordable housing loan program, we continue to make progress toward our goal of building a dynamic, compassionate, diverse city where every neighborhood thrives and the potential of every citizen flourishes.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]