Beverly Hills debates changing fence ordinance

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 8, 2018

 The Beverly Hills Village Council will soon be considering an ordinance change that would allow different varieties of fences to be built at residences. Fences in the village have become a point of contention in Beverly Hills, with some members of the community supporting a proposed ordinance for taller and more solid fences and others opposing it.

The Beverly Hills Village Council will soon be considering an ordinance change that would allow different varieties of fences to be built at residences. Fences in the village have become a point of contention in Beverly Hills, with some members of the community supporting a proposed ordinance for taller and more solid fences and others opposing it.

Photosby Deb Jacques

BEVERLY HILLS — Many residents in Beverly Hills are wondering if the grass could be greener with a different kind of fence.

The Beverly Hills Village Council is currently debating an ordinance change that would allow different types of fences in certain areas of the village.

“They’re looking at allowing 6-foot fences in a limited geographic area of the village,” explained Village Manager Chris Wilson. “It’s currently limited to 4 feet tall and must be at least 35 percent open to air. That area would primarily be east of Southfield Road and a small section north of Beverly Road, between Southfield Road and Evergreen.”

A public reading and public forum for the proposed change took place at a Village Council meeting Dec. 5, and a second reading took place at the council’s Dec. 19 meeting. The matter has been a contentious one in the village for some time, and several residents came out to voice their support or opposition to the proposed ordinance change.     
“The ordinance was put in place 20 years ago, and there’s been a lot of low-level discussion about it for some time, particularly in the last year to 18 months,” said Wilson. “It’s always been sort of an issue because it was the same ordinance regarding the whole village, despite having a variety of types of residences in the community.”

The measure is now being discussed by a subcommittee of the Village Council, and at least one more public hearing will be scheduled to collect public feedback on the issue, most likely in early February. No date for a final vote on the ordinance change has been scheduled.

“I thought the feedback we got at the (Dec. 5) meeting was good,” said Wilson. “There’s been a lot of issues raised both for and against it. The subcommittee is taking those opinions under advisement and considering modifications to the ordinance measure.”

Several residents spoke in favor of the ordinance change, stressing a desire for privacy on their property and saying that allowing 6-foot-tall fences doesn’t mean everyone would install them. They believe the fences would not negatively affect the relationships between neighbors.

Those who spoke against the measure stressed their belief that more solid fences of greater height would change the atmosphere of the community and could potentially be obtrusive to neighbors.

“I’ve been involved in Beverly Hills matters for 25 years, including being (on) the Village Council, the Zoning Board, and I’m on the Planning Commission currently, so I’ve seen all the angles of this, and there’s been a long sentiment in Beverly Hills to not have 6-foot fences and achieve privacy through shrubbery and trees and otherwise foster openness,” said Antonia Grinnan, a Beverly Hills resident. “There are some people saying they want more privacy. There aren’t many zoning requests for these types of fences; there’s no groundswell for this, and most of those asking for them haven’t tried to find a more Beverly Hills-type solution to the issue.”

Those opposed say there are other options residents can take if they desire more privacy.

“They say ‘Birmingham has it, why can’t we?’ but we are not the same type of community as Birmingham,” said Grinnan. “Fences make for a different type of community, so I don’t think we need a change in this ordinance. What local government is about is restricting private property. We live in a community where what we do affects our neighbors. There are ways to get all the privacy you want without putting up 6-foot fences, and I think people need to be more open-minded about options.”

Village Councilwoman Lee Peddie voiced her support for the measure, stating that it should be a decision made by each resident and that different kinds of lots may want different kinds of fences.

“I’ve been on the council for my third term, and it’s come up many, many times,” she said. “We have more than 200 nonconforming fences on the east side of the village. They will fall into disrepair, and people can’t fix them because they’re against the ordinance. People want privacy, and they should be allowed to have it. … People do have concerns about putting up walls, but this is a personal choice. We’re not looking to do a village-wide measure with large brushstrokes. On smaller lots, in the winter when the foliage falls away, you’re pretty much looking into your neighbor’s yard.”

As a member of the subcommittee looking at the issue, Peddie said they are taking all residents’ concerns into account and are examining various options and possible compromises for the measure.

“The subcommittee is looking at zoning districts, permits and questions about specific questions raised by residents,” continued Peddie. “This is an issue where it seems as though people are either very for it or very against it, and we are trying to come up with something people can live with.”

Councilman James Delaney said he is opposed to the measure, stating that he wants to preserve the classic nature of the village, and that includes an open relationship between neighbors.

“This ordinance was set up in 1957, when the village came into existence, and it is part of why we have a beautiful community, and I don’t want that to change. I think we need more study into materials, who will maintain them, different types or heights of fences, and what the community would be agreeable to,” said Delaney. “We have to do what is best for the village as a whole. I don’t think 6-foot solid walls are a good fit for the village. I believe the majority of the residents west of Southfield Road do not support that kind of fencing in west Beverly Hills. We pride ourselves on being a community, and there’s an openness to Beverly Hills, and I think this would damage it.”