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Woolwich softens stance on encroachment policy

Woolwich residents who’ve encroached on township land can expect a “kinder and gentler” approach to enforcement.

The township adopted a written policy last year for dealing with encroachments – from flowers that creep onto public land to sheds and other structures sitting outside the property line – but the new council appears ready to soften its stance.

Two residents who addressed council Apr. 12 got a sympathetic hearing, with councillors ultimately instructing staff to tone down the policy, which Mayor Todd Cowan likened to a witch hunt.

The cases discussed Tuesday night were just a few of more than 100 encroachments identified last year, instances where homeowners had taken over use of abutting township property. In about 20 occurrences, that involved erecting structures such as fences, sheds and gazebos.

Other violations included expansion of gardens and walkways, among others.

Heidi Wight of 112 Sugar King Dr. and two of her neighbours were cited for plantings and play area sitting on township property in their rear yards. All three are looking to purchase the land from the township. She and her neighbours have been maintaining the land, mowing the grass and controlling weeds.

“We would really like to own the property with those beautiful trees that enhance the value of our properties,” she said, noting the purchase attempts predate the encroachment policy.

Clerk Christine Broughton said the township wants items cleared from its property because the land contains a culvert and a drainage ditch that requires maintenance: work crews have to be able to get into the area with their equipment.

Rather than enforcing a cleanup, however, councillors suggested looking at alternatives, including selling the land but maintaining an easement for the township or granting an exemption from the policy.

Bert Menkveld of 8 Victoria Glen, who has a shed that spills over his property line onto municipal land, got an equally friendly reception.

The shed, which was constructed in place behind his house and is not movable, was there when he bought the home nine years ago, he said, estimating the structure probably dates back at least 15 years. In order to avoid encroaching on Woolwich land, he would have to tear down the shed.

Again, councillors asked staff to look at alternatives, including an encroachment agreement.

The two cases represent “soft” and “hard” encroachments. While existing soft encroachments such as gardens and flowerbeds are being allowed to continue in some cases, the policy prohibits new ones. In the case of hard encroachments such as Menkveld’s shed, the policy calls for removal.

“It’s almost like we’re picking fights,” said Cowan of the policy, asking staff to “soften it up a little bit.”

In the case of plantings, the township should be encouraging residents to look after the properties, rather than letting it go wild and forcing the township to do the work, he suggested, adding that where encroachments hinder township work, action might be needed.

Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis noted residents should be encouraged to beautify the properties, but warned that their landscaping efforts might be torn up if crews need to access township land.

Calling the policy “a little picky,” she added the controls are sometimes necessary in cases where people take a mile when given an inch.

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