No Residents Come Forward As Planners Ponder Fence Limits

Proposal limits fence heights to four feet when facing streets and restricts colors

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If a fence ordinance falls over in a public hearing and no one hears it -- did it make a sound?

Well, actually -- Payson's unexpectedly controversial effort to craft a fence ordinance that would eliminate blind intersections and ugly walls did make a stir on Wednesday, July 9, among a hard-core group of town planners and planning commissioners.

Residents were conspicuously absent at the hearing at town hall intended to gather additional comments from the public, after a divided Town Council rejected a year of planning commission work and sent the proposed fence ordinance back to the drawing board.

Still, Zoning Administrator Ray Erlandsen hopes that anyone with concerns about the proposed new fence ordinance will contact him at rerlandsen@ci.payson.az.us or (928) 474-5242, ext. 264.

The town has done without a fence ordinance since 1996, when the town adopted a new building code that unaccountably left out any mention of fences, said Erlandsen. So for the past decade or so, the town's planners have essentially gone by the previous fence ordinance -- which imposed few restrictions.

The planning commission set out to nail shut that hole in the building code after receiving complaints about fences that blocked the views of drivers approaching some intersections.

The issue got additional momentum after a developer, in the midst of a dispute with neighboring homeowners, put up a chain link construction fence sheathed in bright orange plastic.

The proposed ordinance limits fence heights to four feet along property lines facing the street, requires the homeowner to make sure the most attractive side of the fence faces the street, limits the colors people can paint their fences, limits fence heights to six feet without a special permit and prevents the owners of corner lots from building fences that would block the view of drivers looking for approaching traffic on the intersecting street.

Several members of the Town Council criticized the resulting ordinance as a ham-handed government effort to turn the whole town into a "homeowner's association." Councilor Mike Vogel led the charge against the ordinance, decrying its detailed provisions and its "one size fits all" approach to town zoning and regulation.

As a result, the council sent the ordinance back to town staff with a list of concerns mostly designed to make sure the ordinance didn't include too many burdensome conditions, provided for adequate fencing on horse properties, didn't affect existing fences, reduced or eliminated fees, didn't conflict with more stringent restrictions of homeowner's associations and avoided "one size fits all" language.

The Wednesday hearing was the planning staff's effort to respond to those council concerns.

Planning Commission Chairman Hal Baas said, "we put a lot of work into this" and studied similar laws other towns. " We don't want Payson to be different from other people -- just to be like Arizona."

Councilman Ed Blair, speaking from the audience, noted that he didn't understand how the town staff could ever write an ordinance that wasn't a case of "one size fits all."

"(Councilor) Vogel was just adamant that we not have one size fits all, but if you are going to have an ordinance, it has to fit everybody. That's what an ordinance is."

Now Erlandsen will take the council comments and any input from residents and make changes in the proposed ordinance. It will then go back to the council for approval.

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