HYATTSVILLE – When Hyattsville Councilman Robert Croslin introduced proposed changes to the city’s fence and wall ordinance, he only wanted to make it easier for residents to fix their fences, but the discussion quickly turned to logistics about bushes. Over the past two meetings, the Hyattsville City Council has debated the merits of making changes […]
HYATTSVILLE – When Hyattsville Councilman Robert Croslin introduced proposed changes to the city’s fence and wall ordinance, he only wanted to make it easier for residents to fix their fences, but the discussion quickly turned to logistics about bushes.
Over the past two meetings, the Hyattsville City Council has debated the merits of making changes to the city’s wall and fence ordinance, though most of the discussion has centered around the outcomes of possibly designating certain bush fences as “legal non-compliant” fences.
“Nothing contained in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the maintenance and repair of a non-conforming fence or wall as long as the fence or wall is not changed in character and repairs are made with substantially the same materials,” Croslin said while introducing the proposed ordinance change.
The changes Croslin proposed to the council include language that would allow residents to repair their fences that legally do not comply with the city and county fence ordinances, meaning they were either grandfathered in 2003 or they have a variance, without a permit and without having to seek permission from the city.
Crosiln specifically added language to state, “no fence or retaining wall may be erected or put in place without first obtaining a permit from the city, unless it is to maintain or repair a legal non-conforming fence or wall.” He said he did this because the previous ordinance specified that no more than 25 percent of a legal non-confirming fence could be repaired without a permit.
“What we’re attempting to do here is make it easier for residents rather than more difficult,” he said, explaining why the changes were created and formed they way they were.
Croslin said his changes are meant to very specifically encourage residents to maintain their fences, even noting that he wants to help residents who, through no fault of their own, find themselves needing to replace broken or destroyed fences.
However, despite Croslin’s intent, Councilman Patrick Paschall found issue with the wording of the ordinance, noting he believes the new language would effectively allow bushes or hedges that act as a wall to be grandfathered into the city ordinance as legal non-conforming fences. This was a fear Councilman Bart Lawrence had voiced at a previous council meeting, and the two worry this could allow residents to grow their hedged walls as tall and as wide as they want.
At the same time, Paschall said he wanted clarity on any wall or fence restrictions prior to June 30, 2003, when the current city fence ordinance was enacted. He argued that he needed to know what was allowed previously before effectively grandfathering those fences and walls into an updated ordinance.
“The idea, also, in making (policy) changes is presumably to effect some other public policy goals, such as safety or aesthetics or those sorts of things. So when we say we’re going to grandfather them in at the time…is to say that’s the transition out period,” Paschall said. “And allows us to get into the new standards without being overly burdensome to residents.”
Paschall said he believes that transition period has lasted long enough and didn’t see why the city should create a permanent exception to the fence ordinance.
“I want to know exactly what is it that we’re grandfathering in,” he said.
However, Assistant City Administrator Jim Chandler said he was unsure the city had an ordinance prior to 2003, when the county’s requirements became stricter and the city responded by passing their legal non-conforming guidelines.
“What is on the books, I believe, is the city’s first attempt at a local fence ordinance,” Chandler said. “I believe prior to that, we relied strictly on the county fence ordinance.”
Paschall requested both the previous county ordinance and meeting minutes from when the city changed its policy previous to analyze the public’s reaction to the change.
Despite debate about hedges, Paschall said he, as well as the rest of the council, should probably focus more on the merits of the overall proposed changes, as the language would go to the city attorney for cleaning up before the council votes.
Lawrence also said there may be merit in crafting a document about what the intent of the changes is and handing it over to the city attorney to create ordinance changes.
In the end, Croslin said, he just wants residents to be able to fix their fences.