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Dealing with those crossing the line

Does your yard back onto township property? Has your space been creeping a little to the rear? Maybe some plantings? A little extra room in the vegetable garden? Or perhaps even what seemed like an ideal spot for a shed? If so, you can probably expect to hear from Woolwich officials before too long.

The township has already identified 107 such encroachment offences, and will be on the lookout for others.
Discussing the issue this week, councillors opted for a firm response to existing cases. And they’d like to prevent new ones from arising.

Of those identified so far, about 20 involve what the township terms structures – where residents have erected fences, sheds or gazebos, for instance, on public land – Christine Broughton, director of council and information services, explained in a report tabled Tuesday night.

“Staff are looking at addressing these encroachments immediately,” she said.

The remaining cases include instances where residents have planted trees, flowers and gardens on township land – they will be dealt with over time.

While Broughton had suggested entering into encroachment agreements with some of the residents, councillors seem more inclined to enforce the division between private and public property.

“I think there should be no encroachments,” said Coun. Ruby Weber. “I don’t think people should claim township land as their own. It should be obvious that the property is township property.”

But even she acknowledged there are cases where what is technically encroachment is advantageous: for instance, when residents maintain township right-of-ways or look after the turf on boulevards and turning circles.

Generally, most of the problems occur with rear yards, as homeowners spread out onto land that belongs to the public. The proposed new policy would deal with violators where necessary and look at encroachment agreements in other cases, said Broughton.

Formal agreements would see new buyers made aware of municipal boundaries whenever a house is sold, she added, noting that there has been confusion in the past as new owners simply assumed the land belonged to them.

Moving forward, especially in new subdivisions, a fence should be erected to clearly delineate private and public property, suggested Coun. Murray Martin. Supportive of residents keeping township land neat, he argued against residents in effect making their yards bigger by simply spreading out onto abutting municipal property, pointing out a history of encroachments and disputes over the use of public land.

That history includes a long-running battle on Burlwood Drive, a development that went to the Ontario Municipal Board and where demarcation between yards and a forested area was part of the legal dispute.
After a back-and-forth argument that lasted some years, the township eventually agreed in 2005 to a living fence – bushes and shrubs – to keep the two areas separate. Similar neighbourhood issues have arisen elsewhere, most recently in Elmira’s Victoria Glen area, which prompted the latest policy review.

For the time being, councillors appeared happy to deal with encroachments on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket policy for agreements.

Coun. Mark Bauman suggested the township deal with the 20 clear-cut cases first, then assess those instances where encroachment might be mutually beneficial to the township and the homeowner – inspection, enforcement and solution to follow.

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