The proposed four-year university announced last week has caused quite a lot of discussion, both in the community and at Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting. While most of it is positive, one topic brought forth was seen in a much more negative light: What happened to the residents who were living at the Cundiff Square townhouses?
Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, his brother Michael Keck, and other announced last week plans to build the University of Somerset, a private school, on the property that is currently the site of the run-down commercial area known as Cundiff Square.
But the property also once contained townhouses that were rented to low-income families. Those families were evicted, which took place prior to the city of Somerset buying the property, according to Mayor Keck.
The city bought the property to potentially revitalize the area. In Monday’s meeting, Keck clarified that the university board will purchase the property from the city before work on the educational center will begin.
Mayor Keck is the current chairman of the university board, although he stated that he holds that position as a citizen, not as the mayor of Somerset.
The initial announcement that the city was buying the Cundiff Square property took place at a City Council meeting held February 10.
Of the evictions, Keck said, “I’m not sure exactly when they were given their notices from the landlord. The city of Somerset did not own the property when those folks were evicted. Now, I’m not throwing the other landlord under the bus, but I was specific not to close until June 30, to ensure that enough time would lapse. The reason June 30 was decided was because we had budgeted that money in that fiscal year and we had to close by then not to roll over into July 1.”
He talked about the city’s February decision, saying, “I was very clear with the intentions to make that a redevelopment area, as was the council back in February, long before there were COVID restrictions here in Kentucky.”
But one council member, Amanda “Bean” Bullock, also referred to his statements back then to indicate that the townhouses would not be kept by the city.
“I was under the impression that the buildings in the back were going to be sold to someone else, never to be torn down. That was the plan at the time. A lot of misinformation was floated around,” Bullock said.
Keck’s comments about the townhouses from that February meeting were: “Because of the investment the city’s making, I think it’d be purview that should we sell it, we ensure that some investment is made in exchange for it that meets the standard of the project moving forward. But we’re not in the leasing business long-term, so I don’t think it’d be the pleasure of my office or the council to have them for too awful long.”
Bullock and others took that to mean that the townhouses themselves would continue to be used.
She said she did not approve of the way the evictions were handled, especially since it was during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whoever’s fault it was, I was not happy with the way the evictions were carried out,” she said, adding that she had told people the apartments would remain.
“I feel like I’ve lied to them when I didn’t know,” she said.
Keck said, “In candor, I didn’t hear from anybody at the time.”
Bullock responded that she didn’t either.
A Somerset resident, Amber King, also brought her concerns in front of the council.
“People were evicted from Cundiff Square. What is going on here? People want answers and are in the dark. There’s got to be more transparency here. Your citizens are lost and hurt, upset. It’s a mess,” she said.
Keck responded that he respected the need for transparency and he felt he has been as transparent as possible, but he would look at doing better in the future.