Tuesday, November 01, 2011

TOP STORY >> Fence was city’s to tear down

Leader staff writer

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman doesn’t understand all the brouhaha over a city-owned fence that it recently tore down.

Some Austin Lakes residents are upset that a fence across the street from their homes in front of the Park Crest Apartments was recently taken down by the mayor and others.

The mayor said the developer put up the fence when working on the subdivision and then deeded the area between the adjoining apartments and the street to the city as an easement. She said that meant the fence also became city property.

“It had gotten into such disarray,” the mayor explained, “that it was best to tear it down.” She added that the fence didn’t go anywhere and was a safety hazard.

But some area residents believe the mayor acted improperly.

Leslie Durbin said, “The city of Sherwood does not own the property where the fence was torn down by Mayor Virginia Hillman. The mayor tore down private property. She owes the residents of Austin Lakes on the Bay over $3,000. I am not a lawyer, but I believe her actions were illegal.”

The mayor is adamant that the fence was on a right-of-way. “It concerned public property, which the city maintains,” she said.

The mayor is also worried about the consistent bickering about the fencing between the apartment complex and the subdivision. “Our fence requirements are for visual screening, not to block people in or out of areas,” she said.

Ordinance 1492 states, “Any fence or screen constructed shall not extend beyond the front building line on any lot or beyond the side building line on corner lots. Said screening is intended to minimize intrusions of commercial development with abutting single family residential. These regulations are designed to provide improved livability between residential and commercial uses by defining policy and standards regarding the placement, retention, or placement of areas designated as screen borders or buffer areas.”

Zoning Ordinance 729 also dictates the height of fences at no more than eight feet, and that the city engineer needs to approve the location, materials and construction method of the fence.

Before approving a fence the city engineer will make sure it is not a traffic hazard and does not significantly obstruct views from adjoining lots. The engineer will approve materials and construction methods “in order to eliminate unsightly and dangerous fences.”

And unsightly and dangerous is what the city’s code enforcement officer, Scott Kelley, considered the fence to be dilapidated.

“We couldn’t enforce the fence requirements onto Park Crest or any other resident or business if we didn’t take care of our own fence,” both the mayor and code enforcement officer said.

The fencing ordinance is being debated by the planning commission and the council.

Planning Commission Chairman Lucien Gillham said at the commission’s September meeting that “the main thing that would be changing with this ordinance is that in the event that nonresidential and multifamily-uses sides are backed up to R-1 or R-2 residential zoning or in the event that any nonresidential district backs up to R-3 multifamily district a solid brick/masonry screening wall of 8 feet in height shall be erected to provide visual and protective barriers between properties.”

Gillham said the current ordinance said a screen shall be provided and the material location and height shall be as prescribed by the planning commission.

He said in the past developers of multifamily developments have wanted to put up a wooden fence and the commission went along with that. He said the proposed requirements would give notice that a substantial screening is required.

The city council tabled any action on the ordinance at its September meeting.