Metro Louisville

A group of four adults spent their Wednesday evening building with Legos in the Shawnee Public Library.

They weren’t just passing the time. Rather, they were carefully considering how to build an entire neighborhood, discussing and debating where buildings represented by pieces should go.

AJ Stewart, one of the participants in this city-run workshop, helped the group design a community physically centered around businesses and services.

“The main focus of mine was to create a density of a node and to get the ideas from other people I was working with, and to see what their ideas were and what their thoughts were for the walkability and livability of the neighborhood,” said Stewart.

The group didn’t just have to figure out where to place houses, schools and parks. It also had to decide where to place two types of residences: single-family homes and middle housing.

Middle housing includes multi-family homes like duplexes that have two living units in one structure. It also features concepts like bungalow courts, where homes are structured around a shared green space.

Stewart is a member of Develop The West, a community group focused on neighborhood development, including middle housing.

“We educate people about walkability, livability and bikeability and mental health, especially in west Louisville, since we feel it has such a great potential for being such a livable neighborhood,” he said, referring to the city’s poorest area. It also has a disproportionate amount of Black residents 

Wednesday’s event on middle housing was organized by Louisville Metro’s Office of Planning and Design Services as a form of community outreach and a way to discuss how local neighborhoods should be built.

Jacob Munoz | wfpl.org

City officials and residents gathered at the Shawnee Library for a Lego-building workshop focused on middle housing.

Since 2020, officials have been working to reform the city’s Land Development Code , which sets property regulations across Jefferson County.

PDS is leading efforts to update the code through policy recommendations and is mainly focused on changing rules that affect housing, including which buildings are allowed where and what standards have to be met.

Among other goals, the agency says it wants to expand affordable housing options for residents across the city and address the effects of historic discriminatory planning and zoning practices against Black and low- to moderate-income residents. That includes introducing more middle housing to Louisville.

Joel Dock, PDS’s planning coordinator, said neighborhoods like Shawnee in the west and the Highlands near downtown have middle housing options. But historic zoning regulations shut that kind of development out of other parts of the city by introducing homogenous districts.

The majority of residential land in Louisville is currently in single-family zoning districts.

“We don’t have anything in this so-called middle to provide, you know, a full spectrum of housing that’s in different price points, and different rent points and different styles, and different ownership and rental arrangements,” Dock said.

PDS is considering changes to the code such as an amendment to have more zones permit multi-family houses and another that would allow duplexes in single-family zoning districts.

The agency created a list of recommended changes last year and says it’s continuing to seek feedback on them. The Phase 1 suggestions have already passed through Metro Council as amendments, including one making it easier for homeowners to build secondary housing units on their properties.

PDS is currently in Phase 2 of its proposed changes. Dock said his team will look to present code amendments, including for middle housing, around mid-to-late 2023.

“There could be either new zoning classifications or reworking of classifications, you know, an opening up of existing zoning districts. We really have to see where this engagement takes us,” Dock said.

While changes to the LDC can affect communities across Jefferson County, 12 home rule cities have their own zoning authority. Most are located in the east, including Jeffersontown and St. Matthews, and can choose whether to accept any Metro updates to their own codes.

PDS plans to host three more middle housing workshops over the next three weeks in Louisville Free Public Library locations across the city, along with two office hours sessions.

Jacob is WFPL's Business and Development Reporter.