Faced with a less-than-ideal situation, Woolwich council is sticking with its good-fences-make-good-neighbours policy.
Though admitting plans to erect a chain-link fence along a township walkway just inches away from a wooden fence already installed by an adjacent homeowner, councillors meeting Tuesday night had no appetite for making an exception to township standard operating procedure.
Timber Trail Road, Elmira residents Brenda and Allen Schneider were in council chambers August 13 to ask the township to forego the installation of another fence, pointing to potential maintenance issues and poor aesthetics of the plan.
The couple built a wood fence just in from their property line. The installation of a chain-link fence six inches away would create a trap for weeds and debris that would be difficult to maintain, argued Brenda Schneider.
“It would be physically unmanageable,” she said of the remaining strip of land between the two fences.
She added the couple had done extensive landscaping since moving to the new home two years ago, work that would be somewhat undone by the utilitarian fence and the weeds that might sprout.
“A chain-link fence would be out of place.”
Township officials, though somewhat sympathetic to problem, opted to stick with their policy.
Usually, fencing would have already been built before the homes were constructed. An exception was made in the case of this Southwood neighbourhood, and that lead to the current issue, noted planning director Mark Pomponi.
The subdivision agreement calls for the developer to install chain-link fences on both sides of the walkway there. Dropping that requirement would mean the township would get into a legal agreement with the neighbours to keep and maintain the fence, registering that on title. Otherwise there would be nothing to prevent the next owner from removing the fence, for current neighbours to change their minds about keeping and maintaining a fence.
That was much too convoluted for Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who noted the Schneiders were aware a fence was to be built there, as listed on the property’s title.
“There are too many variables here,” he said in calling for the township to act as planned.
“Fences make good neighbours.”
While exploring options, fellow Ward 1 Coun. Scott McMillan noted the situation would have been avoided had the fences been built beforehand, in accordance with policy.
“That can of worms got opened when the builder and developer were allowed to not put in the fence,” he said of the Schneiders’ dilemma.
In advocating for a new fence, Pomponi noted the township also pushes for fencing to prevent encroachment on municipal property, particularly woodlots such as the one in that neighbourhood.
For that reason, the township prefers to have “care and control” of the measures needed to prevent problems.
The fencing also benefits adjacent property owners, keeping people from entering their yards and discouraging pedestrians from cutting across their lawn.
Veteran Coun. Murray Martin noted the township has dealt with this issue before, having run into encroachment issues. That’s why the policy today calls for fencing to be installed before the homes are built.
“Fences – there’s a good reason that they’re there.”
The township launched both a fence bylaw and encroachment policy in 2011 after a number of issues arose.
Encroachment was a particular problem. A policy was drafted to deal with more than 100 encroachments identified the previous 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. Originally looking at a hard-line stance, the township eventually decided so-called soft encroachments – gardens and flowerbeds, for instance, that spill over onto boulevards and municipal rights-of-ways – were fine, but vowed to crack down on cases where fences, sheds and the like intrude on its property.
With the encroachments in mind, along with disputes between neighbours, fencing issues were dealt with, including the eventual policy that fences be installed in new developments before building permits are issued for the homes.
None of that was a consolation to the Schneiders, who left disappointed.
“It looks like it’s a chain-link fence,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz when no one around the council table proposed an exemption.