Commission still seeks fencing resolution

Building chief to answer commissioners’ questions June 17

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published June 11, 2013

ROYAL OAK — In light of emails, phone calls and in-person complaints from residents regarding the sudden enforcement of a fence ordinance created decades ago, Mayor Jim Ellison requested that Jason Craig, the chief building official, be present for discussion at the June 17 meeting.

The city has recently begun enforcing an old fencing ordinance that restricts the height of sight-obscuring fences and plants along driveways. Officials say the ordinance is in place for safety reasons, but residents not in compliance have called it a financial hardship.

“I think we just need to get the message out there in plain, easy-to-understand terms that people will understand,” Ellison said during the June 3 meeting. “I’m still getting emails on it.”

City Manager Don Johnson said in an interview that the city is preparing a full report for the commission.

Commissioner Jim Rasor suggested that the Building Department hold off on enforcement of the ordinance until the commission receives a full report from Craig.

“I would be comfortable asking the Building Department to stay what they are doing until we have a full report on it, because some of the people I’ve talked to and some of the scenarios I’ve looked at, (the fence) can’t be modified,” Rasor said.

He said that some residents have fixtures and pools in their yards that won’t allow them to cut their fences down to three feet.

Ellison disagreed.

“We still have a safety issue that exists, and they’ve got to go and track that,” he said. “I’d rather deal with the exceptions than stop the entire program. I just want the process to be better.”

Since May, residents have been coming to various City Commission meetings complaining about notices from the city’s Building Department telling them their fences along their driveways are not in compliance with city law.

Many residents say the fences were constructed before they moved into the home.

But the city says that the ordinance is in place for the safety of pedestrians and drivers. Johnson said at least three people were struck last year by vehicles backing out of driveways with obstructed views.

“It is solving a real problem that we really can’t ignore anymore,” Johnson said.

In addition to the report, the city will be sending a second letter to residents not in compliance with the ordinance that Johnson believes will spell out clearer than the first letters the reasoning behind the enforcement.

It was just recently that a complaint led zoning officials to realize city law does not allow the fences to be grandfathered in, Ellison said.

The ordinance requires that the fence along the driveway be removed or shortened to no taller than 36 inches and moved no closer than 10 feet from the nearest intersection or public sidewalk

Resident Danny Torresan, who has lived in his home near Normandy Road and Main Street for 11 years, is one of the residents the city is requiring to either remove or cut down his fence.

He said a contractor estimated that it would cost $600 for the work needed to bring his fence into compliance.

“Many people are just coming out of the great recession, and this is a financial hardship for many homeowners,” he said.

He requested that any fees required to make the adjustments be waived. Torresan also requested homeowners be given a longer time period to comply.

“This whole thing was executed very poorly,” Torresan said.

Ellison said because the issue at hand is safety, there may be very little the city can do.

“Safety violations exist with every one of them,” Ellison said during the meeting. “And when you have a safety violation, you don’t have a whole lot of latitude to give any kind of relief.”

He said where it got out of hand is that the code enforcement flagged so many homes at once after the initial complaint.

“We’ve kind of asked the Building Department to relax on the enforcement on this, and let’s try to get an organized plan and see what we can do to work with people,” Ellison said.

He said the commission and the Building Department are still trying to work out the details.

“It took us all by surprise,” Ellison said. “And obviously, it took all the people who received letters by surprise.”