Fence Rule Divides Payson Town Council

Good fences make good neighbors -- but ugly fences make for lively discussions

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A proposed fence ordinance complete with scale drawings and color palette provoked a council revolt against "turning Payson into a giant homeowner's association."

A recent dispute in which a developer shrouded his vacant acreage with bright orange sheeting attached to a construction fence revealed the town's lack of a fence ordinance.

So the town's planning commission put the issue on the front burner and came up with a detailed ordinance that not only would have banned such bright colors, but limited tall fences running along the property line, banned fences that blocked drivers' views and required fence builders to pick from a list of acceptable colors. The ordinance would apply to new and remodeled fences, but would not affect existing fences.

The long list of restrictions coupled with a requirement the fence owner submit scale drawings sounded a bit too much like Big Brother for Councilor Mike Vogel, a retired firefighter and the council's unofficial curmudgeon.

"We've just jacked up the cost" of doing business in Payson again, complained Vogel. "I think we're trying to turn this town into a homeowner's association. And I know there will be fees, because we don't do anything for free. If I'm a homeowner and I want a fence, that's my right -- and now you're saying I've got to go and make sure my cyclone fence is the right color. I think we should keep our noses out of this."

Vogel said the ordinance should make special provisions for fences around horse properties, which might have to be taller and closer to the property line than the proposed ordinance allowed.

But Councilor Ed Blair said the town needed a fence ordinance -- both to promote driver safety and to avoid problems like the orange plastic fence around the Flowing Springs development on Airport Road that neighbors referred to as the "spite fence."

"We had a real problem with that orange fence, and no way to prevent it because we didn't have a code. For the community's good, we need this."

"I don't have a problem with regulating construction fences," said Vogel, "but when we throw the whole town into a homeowner's association, now we've gone to far. It's not one size fits all."

"The orange fence wasn't a construction fence. The orange fence was obnoxious," persisted Blair.

Councilor Tim Fruth weighed in on Vogel's behalf, saying "One size doesn't fit all -- that's just not right," especially if the town's fence ordinance would overrule the rules of a homeowner's association.

Councilor Su Connell also agreed. "The orange fence was an isolated incident that got way out of control. It feels like Big Brother stepping in."

Mayor Bob Edwards then provided some support for Blair. "I tend to agree Big Brother shouldn't get involved in government. But fences can be attractive or they can be ugly." He said strong ordinances that impose design standards either "give you a town that looks like Sedona or looks like Prescott Valley."

Edwards said that without an effective ordinance, homeowners could build fences out to the property line that would effectively block drivers' views approaching intersections.

"I think this is not a bad ordinance, although that doesn't mean it can't come back for a rewrite," concluded Edwards.

Blair persisted. "Su said that (orange fence) was out of control -- and it was. But that is the function of government, to exercise control. A lot of people have put a lot of time into this" said Blair in reference to multiple public hearings before the planning commission "and I'd just hate to see all that go down the tube."

"We can't have businesses with ugly fences, I agree," said Fruth, "but when you get to every neighborhood...I'm not voting against you, I'm voting against one size fits all."

"The first question is, do you want a fence ordinance?" asked Edwards. "Unless we have one, we're going to have corners where we pile cars up and we're going to have junky looking places. Let's at least direct staff to come back with something -- but you have to accept that ‘one size fits all' is what a town code is all about."

Blair then moved to adopt the ordinance after eliminating the requirement for scale drawings, barring any fees for the permit and adding special rules for horse corrals. "That's my last-ditch attempt," he said.

When both Fruth and Councilor John Wilson objected to leaving it up to town staff to make revisions after council had already approved the ordinance, Mayor Edwards asked Blair if he would change his motion to simply send the ordinance back to the town staff.

But Blair refused. "I'd rather go down to flaming defeat, than to start all over," he said.

So the council voted 5-1 to defeat Blair's motion.

Vogel then moved that the council direct town staff to revise the proposed fence law in accordance with the council discussion and bring it back in 90 days.

That motion passed 6-0.

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