Payson Council Straddles Vexing Fence Issues

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Seems like every time the Payson council members climb up on top of the proposed fence ordinance to look around -- they end up straddling it.

They did it again last week, when the council directed the staff to write up the current unwritten code to see if it's different from a proposed new ordinance the planning staff has been trying to coax through a reluctant council for months.

Stymied again by Councilor Mike Vogel's objection to any formal ordinance restricting fences, the council asked town staff to explore a simple administrative rule to prevent the construction of ugly fences that block driver's views.

"It allows a little more flexible administration," suggested Mayor Kenny Evans.

Vogel said he liked all of the deleted wording in the proposed ordinance since the last time it came before the council, but "now if you could just blank out all the pages between the first one and the last one, then I'd be happy."

Councilor Ed Blair said fences ought to be covered by the town's uniform development code like most other building matters.

"You've worked so hard and so long, I'd like to see us continue," Blair told the town staff. "If most towns have fences in their UDC, then it seems it would be helpful to have fences in the UDC."

The whole dispute goes back to a handful of complaints about fences that blocked the view of drivers approaching intersections, which then boiled over politically when a developer, irritated by neighborhood opposition, put bright orange plastic on the chain link fence surrounding the property and left it there for more than a year. The neighbors referred to the garish plastic wrap as the "spite fence."

At that point, town planners said Payson technically had no fence ordinance. Basic restrictions on fences were included in the old town building code that was replaced by the Uniform Development Code (UDC) in about 1996. Through some oversight, the new code made no reference to fences. So for more than a decade, the town's zoning administrator has simply applied the provisions of the old ordinance through an informal, unwritten policy.

So the planning commission held a series of public hearings to come up with a new fence ordinance. The ordinance banned fences that would block drivers' views at intersections. It also limited fences along front property lines to four foot high. Fences could go to six feet high if set back 30 feet from the property line. The ordinance would require a permit for any fence greater than six feet high and a waiver approved by three different town officials for fences higher than eight feet.

The council debated the issue and asked the planning staff to hold another hearing. Almost no one showed up for that hearing, and last week the ordinance made its way back to the council's agenda again.

The most recent discussion revealed that the proposed ordinance wouldn't have affected the so-called spite fence, which wasn't really a construction fence.

"This is just a knee jerk reaction to that fence," said Jim Garner, during the public comment portion of the hearing. "But I don't see anything in this ordinance that's going to stop what actually started this."

Zoning Administrator Ray Erlandsen said temporary fences longer than 100 feet would require planning staff approval -- although he wasn't sure the orange fence would be considered "temporary."

"So I can put up an obnoxious fence, so long as it's only 99 feet long?" asked Evans.

Councilor Michael Hughes asked, "has that unwritten policy been effective?"

"For the most part, it has worked for 12 years," said Erlandsen.

Blair noted, "I think it's imperative to get this unwritten code in writing."

But Vogel objected. "I don't like things written like this. Few years later, we'll say we don't want boats in the yard. Then pretty soon it's trailers..."

"...and then not a redneck left in town," joked Evans, himself a former farmer.

"Pretty much," grumped Vogel.

Councilor Richard Croy said "I'd like to see it in writing."

"It's an unwritten policy," said Erlandsen.

In the end, the council asked the planning staff to write up the current unwritten policy so the councilors could compare it to already written ordinance -- and then figure out whether what they really want is an administrative rule.

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