City planners ponder fence height rules

A potential zoning regarding residential fence height was the focal point of Wednesday morning’s meeting of the City of Warren Planning Commission.

City Planner David Hildebrand outlined the challenge: The zoning ordinance as currently written would identify corner lots as having two front yards. The regulations permit a maximum height of six feet of fence on side and rear yards but only four feet in the front.

“It really limits where you can put a six foot fence,” Hildebrand said. “This has been in the ordinance for quite a long time. When someone comes… and wants relief, you would have to go to the Zoning Hearing Board.”

The Zoning Hearing Board has approved several applications, permitting six foot fencing on one of those sides that the ordinance identifies as the “front.”

Hildebrand said he isn’t aware of any such requests that were denied by the board.

So, the reality on the ground is that the exception has largely become the rule.

“(We) have had more of these applications recently with the Zoning Hearing Board,” Hildebrand said, which prompted staff to “look into amending this ordinance to give a little bit more flexibility,” calling the regulations now “pretty strict.”

He noted that there is a $400 fee currently to take an item before the board.

Chairman Don Nelson noted that he had a friend go for the special exception which was approved and said that when the item is “granted — in every case it has been — it says to me that the exception has sort of become the rule.”

Nelson said he wouldn’t support permitting six-foot fencing on both of the front yards a corner lot may have but said it would be “appropriate” to permit one of the two to include six-foot fencing.

“(It) seems to make sense to me that one of those sides should probably maintained at four feet,” he added, suggesting that the “indicator” for which could be the actual front of the house.

Commission member Pat Scutella suggested that the front of the house could be identified as the “mailing address door.”

Commission member Alex Shreffler suggesting let the property owner decide but Codes, Permitting and Recreation Services Director Terry Williams said that may not be possible.

“You have a front of a home,” she said. “That’s your front yard.”

She concurred that the front yard should remain with the lower fence height.

“The real designation is what the front of the house is,” Nelson added.

Hildebrand said city staff could work on some scenarios and regulations to bring to the commission’s next meeting.