Picture of UNAC logo and University Neighborhood Advisory Council UNAC serves as an intermediary body between UK and its near neighbors to assist in the development and implementation of plans for mutual benefit. text as a link to the UNAC homepage

Feasibility Study, First Phase (2005): Establishing a University of Kentucky Neighborhood Advisory Council

This project was initiated to determine if it is feasible to establish a Neighborhood Advisory Council.  The fundamental question for the first phase is: “Is it possible a body could be established and structured that would further the interests of both the university and its residential neighbors in ways that no present body does?”

Method

This report is based on data gathered in the following ways:

  • review of background materials;
  • attendance at one Town-Gown Commission meeting;
  • telephone interviews containing structured and open-ended questions with the following people:
    • eight residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the university, three of whom serve on the Town-Gown Commission, including Dick DeCamp, the Third District Council representative;
    • three members of the leadership of the Fayette County Neighborhood Council (FCNC);
    • one landlord with a number of properties in neighborhoods adjacent to the university  who serves on the Town-Gown Commission;
    • Dr. David Stevens, Chairman of the Town-Gown Commission and  Council-at large member of the Urban-County Council. 

Interviews with the FCNC leaders provided a broad overview of neighborhood relations with UK and information about which neighborhoods and neighbors are most active.  Interviews with Dick DeCamp and David Stevens provided both a perspective regarding the Town-Gown Commission and thoughts about the potential uses of a new group. The findings that follow reflect the views primarily of the university neighbors, including the one landlord.

Findings

People agree that there is room for improvement in the relationship between the university and its near residential neighbors.  For a few people, that relationship is at or near the breaking point.  Those people are frustrated and angry, and view recent efforts at outreach by the university as empty and patronizing.  Others share the frustration but believe the problems can and should be addressed, and they recognize and appreciate an increased effort by the university in the past few years to pay better attention to the concerns of the neighbors.

The main theme underlying people’s concerns is the view that the university does whatever it wants to do without regard for the impact on its neighbors.  People object to the broad university policies, the specific decisions, and the implementation plans that they believe have negatively impacted their neighborhoods.  They also feel that they have not been provided with adequate   information or opportunities for meaningful input.  Specific issues and concerns that people cited include:

  • large numbers of students forced into the surrounding neighborhoods because of lack of sufficient housing on campus for students;
  • the great increase in student “party houses” that followed the university’s ban on alcohol on campus;
  • related issues of student behavior, including loud parties and litter;
  • parking;
  • university expansion.

People differ in the issues that they mention or emphasize.  The differences are in large part attributable to the particular impact from the university that people experience in their respective neighborhoods.  For example, people living in neighborhoods to the north and east of the university barely mentioned the hospital expansion and closing of Rose Street.

Most people believe that the Town-Gown Commission is not completely effective in addressing these issues of concern.  They believe the Commission functions more as a forum for reports and exchange of information than as a body that considers hard issues, makes recommendations, and takes action.  Some expressed disappointment that the Town-Gown Commission has failed to address their most pressing concerns.

People are split on the question of the feasibility of establishing an advisory council.  A few people believe that any effort is worth undertaking and can only help. They believe that some action is better than none under almost any circumstance, and they urge going forward.  Most people see possible value in moving forward, but only under specific conditions designed to ensure that:

  • this is not simply an attempt at a public relations or cosmetic fix to serious problems;
  • this body does not duplicate the work of the Town-Gown Commission.

Respondents also share the view that the effort will not be useful without significant university commitment to the project.  To some people this means ongoing involvement -- or at least noticeable attention -- by high level administrators.  To others, this means clear willingness by the university to put hard issue on the agenda, and clear indication that neighbors views are taken seriously.  To a few, the only meaningful evidence of university commitment would be direct focus on changes in the policies and practices they believe have had the most negative impact on their neighborhoods.

Recommendation

Proceed cautiously to the next phase.

There is enough support among university neighbors for moving to the next phase –in terms of both belief in a possible positive outcome and willingness to participate in the work – to justify creation of an Ad Hoc group to work on the design of a structure and process for the proposed Advisory Council.  Neighbors are willing to put effort into improving their relationship with the university despite varying levels of skepticism about whether real change is possible. That is one side of the equation.

On its side, the university has an opportunity to overcome its present deficit with its near neighbors and gain their respect and support.  To do so will require an increased level of commitment to working with the neighbors in a way that the neighbors see as meaningful, and that is meaningful because it is also useful to the university.

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