Don't Fence In Payson To One Standard

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The first time you see the tip of a camel's nose poking in under the edge of your nice cozy tent -- it don't seem like no big deal.

On the face of it, camels have cute and interesting noses. And Lord knows, camels are useful beasts -- hardy, drought-resistant and upsetting to horses.

So when you first notice that hairy little snout down there where it ain't doing no harm, you're natural reaction is to chuckle and go back to your business.

Kind of like the nose tip of a bureaucrat -- or a fence ordinance, come to think of it.

The Payson Town Council had an entertaining and thought provoking little debate last week on the topic of fences -- including their colors, sizes, position on the property and impact on drivers.

The proposal to fill in a stumbled-upon gap in the town code by drafting a suitably detailed fence ordinance touched off something of a philosophical debate on the council.

Fences can make good neighbors and protect the unwary passer-by from a glimpse of the odd things people like to do in the privacy of their own back yards. But they can also upset folks mightily. As a case in point, one need look no further than the orange fence put up by a developer on Houston Mesa Road, which the neighbors affectionately referred to as the "spite fence."

Said fence revealed the town's lack of an ordinance that would give the good folks down at Town Hall the right to decide whether your fence is just too darn ugly to be tolerated in our community.

The planning commission had already been mulling a new fence ordinance -- mostly to ban fences that created dangerous blind intersections. But then the neighborhood irritation about the neon orange fence kicked things into gear.

And in the fullness of time, town staff produced an authoritative sounding ordinance, with all the details earnestly considered and assorted requirements like the sort of scale renderings of sight lines that architectures study diligently to learn how to produce.

So the bureaucracy did it's thing -- take a specific, irritating problem, make up an ordinance that will fix that problem and add enough careful and confusing language that every possible fence situation is anticipated and regulated.

The council last week wrestled with some of those details -- the cost of the newly created permit, the need for scale drawings and exceptions needed for corrals with see-through fences out to the property line. The council debated whether we need a fence ordinance at all -- maybe just some rules on construction fences.

The council also had some lively discussion about turning the town into a homeowner's association -- mingled with concern lest the town rules interfere with the otherwise unlimited rights of homeowner's associations to turn longsuffering homeowners into silly looking poodles at a dog show.

In the end, Councilor Mike Vogel had a rousing Libertarian outburst about Big Brother and Nosy Bureaucrats -- which roiled along with such high dudgeon that he swept the council majority along in a fervered effusion of populist revolt.

So the council sent the ordinance back to town staff for a rewrite.

Hard to know what to do with it now. How do you write an ordinance that doesn't sound like an ordinance? How do you tell people how to build their fences without telling them how to build their fences?

Of course, we'd like something simple. Something like -- "you can't build a fence that blocks the view of drivers or is so obnoxious you obviously did it just for spite."

But then, that's why no one's asking us to write ordinances (editorials are tough enough).

So we will instead limit ourselves to the following observation offered up free of charge to the poor ordinance writer trying to translate the council discussion into law.

The need to protect driver's sight lines and bar lurid orange fences is the camel's nose in this metaphor -- but it's attached to the camel of an overblown ordinance that will burden homeowners and stifle the individuality that this town treasures.

So please, do your best to pat the camel's nose -- without inviting the beast to move in.

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