Louisville Metro to conduct full-scale equity review of the Land Development Code

July 13, 2020

Louisville Metro Government (LMG) will undertake a complete review of the Land Development Code, a comprehensive set of rules for property development and processes, to identify and address land use regulations and policies that have inequitable impacts on Louisville residents. This will be a joint effort by Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration, Metro Council and the Planning Commission.

“Property ownership was and remains critical to building individuals’ and communities’ wealth. Restrictive land use policies for decades dictated how property could be developed and reinforced redlining practices limited who developed land where and for what, intentionally hampering minorities ability to build wealth and contributing to segregation in Louisville and other cities across the U.S.,” the Mayor said. “While Louisville has worked to strip purposefully racist land use regulations from its Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan, it is imperative that we continue the work to identify and change regulations that unintentionally impact our underserved and minority communities in a disproportionate way.”

On Monday afternoon, Louisville Metro Council’s Committee on Equity and Inclusion heard a presentation from LMG’s Office of Planning and Design Services on land use and equity. A resolution requesting the review of the city’s Land Development Code will be introduced next week and must be approved by both Council and the Planning Commission. The review is expected to take at least six months.

“We as a community are long past the time to address some of the problems which have hindered and targeted some of our citizens when it comes to housing and providing for themselves and their families. Through the Resolution, we look forward to working with the Planning Commission to right these wrongs and erase these kinds practices in the 21st Century,” said Council President David James, D-6.

“Louisville’s segregation and economic disparity did not just occur naturally but rather developed through our land use policies and practices. While land use is rarely a hot topic, it impacts almost every facet of daily life from access to food, transportation, health outcomes, education, generational wealth, etc.,” said Councilwoman Nicole George, D-21, vice chair of the Committee on Equity and Inclusion. “In recent years, the legacy of redlining and economic zoning has been recognized but has not been given the focus it deserves and that this moment demands.”

The groundwork for this review of the Land Development Code begin with the release of the updated Comprehensive Plan in 2018 and the Housing Needs Assessment in 2019. Both documents focus on equity in housing, removing barriers for affordable housing and investing in communities impacted by redlining, a practice where minorities were denied loans and insurance. Beginning in February 2020, Develop Louisville staff and Berkley-based architecture and urban design firm Opticos Design began a deep dive review into housing regulations that create barriers to equitable and inclusive development. The report is currently being finalized.

Over decades, land use regulations in Louisville and most cities have resulted in segregated housing patterns. Laws like the racial occupancy ordinance of 1914, which was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, made it unlawful for Blacks in Louisville to reside in a residential block occupied by more than 50% white residents. Racial covenants also were common and prevented houses from being sold to minorities until the practice was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1948.

Louisville adopted its first formal Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance in 1931. With some overtly racist policies banned, cities at the time looked for other ways to use zoning to segregate the city, including redlining.

Today, zoning requirements, along with Deed of Restrictions or Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions enforced by homeowners’ associations, continue to disproportionately impact minorities and underserved communities by excluding individuals through economic and social barriers. For example, minimum lot size requirements combined with limits on the minimum home size, sets a baseline cost to buy-in to the neighborhood.

Such restrictions run contrary to the goals and objectives of the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan, Plan 2040. The plan’s guiding principles – Connected, Healthy, Authentic, Sustainable, and Equitable (CHASE) – emerged from public engagement and will be used during the review of the Land Development Code. Plan 2040 encourages fair and affordable housing, the creation of inter-generational, mixed-income and mixed-use developments and equitable access to recreation and other community services, while discouraging displacement of existing residents.

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