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Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2000

Numbers issue?

July 30, 2000

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There are better ways to address problems in single-family neighborhoods around the Kansas University campus.

It's easy to sympathize with people trying to protect their single-family neighborhoods, but arbitrary limits on the number of unrelated people living in a single-family house will be difficult to enforce and won't directly address the problems being cited by neighbors.

Lawrence city commissioners instructed city staff Tuesday to draft ordinances that would lower the number of unrelated people who can live in a home in single-family zoning from four people to either three or two. Commissioners were responding to residents of neighborhoods south and west of the Kansas University campus who were concerned by the number of houses in their areas that were being inhabited by multiple people, many of whom apparently were KU students.

The houses in question don't fit in with the neighborhood, the residents told the commission. The people who live in them have too many cars and create traffic and parking problems. They sometimes have parties that create noise and trash. In some cases, the properties aren't maintained as well as those inhabited by a single family.

These are all legitimate issues, issues that would concern any homeowner in any area of town. But an arbitrary restriction on how many unrelated people can live in a "single-family" house probably won't solve the problem.

The fact that houses are occupied by families doesn't necessarily mean they will be well-maintained or that noisy parties won't be held there. A family with teen-agers is just as likely to have multiple cars parked outside as a group of four college students.

How do you define family, especially in this age of remarriage and blended families? If an unmarried couple, both with biological children, are living in a single house, would that be a violation? What if a parent has purchased a house for the children to live in while attending KU? Maybe two siblings would be living in the house along with two friends. Would that be OK?

Rather than setting up a single-family policy, the city would be better off enforcing laws that directly address the neighbors' complaints. There are noise ordinances on the books, as well as standards for maintaining residential property. It would be more practical more enforceable to deal with these ordinances than to put the city in charge of deciding what constitutes a family.

One Centennial Neighborhood resident noted, "We know there are landlords that take care of their property, but we also have to deal with the ones that don't."

He's right; the city needs to deal with the landlords by requiring them to maintain their property and keep an eye on their tenants whether there are two friends or four brothers. Active enforcement of current laws should be the first step. If that doesn't work, the city should consider other strategies, but an ordinance that tries to count unrelated people in a house doesn't seem like the answer.

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