City’s “multi-unit house” zoning becomes an issue in Volker

The 3600 block of Bell, where developers are proposing to build a “multi-unit house” which neighbors say does not fit the character of their neighborhood.

A controversy over whether a “multi-unit” house should be allowed in a residential area of the Volker neighborhood drew a crowd to a meeting last night. According to the meeting’s organizer, Lynda McClelland, the issue arose when neighbors learned a house at 3616 Bell and the lot next to it had been purchased for renovation.  But over Labor Day weekend, the house was demolished and neighbors learned of plans for an eight-unit dwelling to be built on the site.

“The neighborhood has a lot of character. Houses on that block are over one hundred years old. We’re trying to find a way to keep that development from happening,” McClelland said.

Larry Stice of the City Planning Department explained the zoning issues to the crowd. He said the developer has applied for a building permit to build a “multi-unit house” on the property.

Under the new city zoning ordinance adopted in 2010, a multi-unit house is defined as three to eight dwelling units on a single lot with only one entrance visible from the street. It is one of the uses allowed in an R-2.5 zoning district like the block of Bell Street.

The city is now reviewing the building permit to determine whether or not the proposed project would be allowed under the area’s R-2.5 zoning. If it does qualify, the neighborhood can appeal and if it does not qualify, the developer can appeal.

Councilman Jim Glover said he plans to introduce an amendment to the development code at the October 16 council meeting. He wants to eliminate the option of building a multi-unit house in an R-2.5 district, but Glover said a retroactive change would not apply to this project since the building permit has already been filed.

The 3600 block of Bell, across the street from the proposed development project.

The neighborhood invited the doctors from KU Medical Center who are behind the project to speak at the meeting. They did not attend, but John Thurston, their builder, explained that he originally bought the house intending to rehab it and build a carriage house, but that was not possible.

“Engineers found there had been a fire in the house and animals were living in there, rats and raccoons and squirrels,” Thurston said.

He then approached a realtor who said there was a group of doctors from KU Medical Center who wanted to build an eight-plex that would be within walking distance of the hospital. They planned to use the apartments when they were on call at the hospital. He sold the property to the doctors.

Thurston agreed to represent the owners in the meeting with the neighbors. The neighbors asked Thurston to take their concerns back to the property owners. They said the proposed multi-family dwelling does not fit the character of the neighborhood and the density is too great for the residential area.

Neighbors are planning to protest against the development and say they will appeal if the multi-family unit permit is issued.