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Researchers find inequity in Louisville zoning decisions

 A screenshot of the cover of a recently published report on zoning changes in Louisville.
Courtesy of the Urban Institute
A screenshot of the cover of a recently published report on zoning changes in Louisville.

Louisville Metro Government commissioned researchers at the Urban Institute to examine ways to increase equity in zoning decisions.

Looking at 10 years of data, researchers found that development projects in high-income neighborhoods were far more likely to get public opposition, or any comment at all.

“The association between resident participation, the tenor of that participation, and a project’s location in a neighborhood with higher incomes should ring alarm bells about the equity of current approaches to public engagement,” according to the final report, released in November. “As a result, neighborhoods with a greater share of residents with lower incomes may be disproportionately exposed to negative outcomes from rezonings, such as environmental harms.”

Yonah Freemark, researcher at the Urban Institute, said the data indicates that public officials are making decisions based on feedback they get from public testimony in zoning hearings. But far fewer people show up to comment on rezoning decisions that affect lower-income areas.

“The people who are coming out to talk are not necessarily fairly representative of everyone who lives in the county,” Freeman said.

Freemark says the lack of comment in those neighborhoods isn’t necessarily by choice. There’s research to show that low-income communities may have barriers to attending evening meetings like an evening work schedule or a lack of childcare.

“[Maybe] they don’t know about the meeting, they are not retired, they don’t have the money to do that kind of thing,” Freeman said. “Another factor at play here is that people in wealthier neighborhoods might be standing in the way of projects that people who might be in favor of them are not able to express their degree of support for.”

The report also found that, overall, only about 4% percent of rezoning proposals in the last decade were rejected by the Louisville government.

Justin is LPM's Data Reporter. Email Justin at jhicks@lpm.org.

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