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Franklin: Fences make for good neighbors sometimes

According to one government official, proposed changes to laws governing how and where fences can be built in Franklin blurs the line between proactive planning and government intrusion.

If the ordinance passes BOMA on its currently unscheduled final reading, the measure would mandate property owners submit plans of the fence in order to obtain a pre-construction $35 permit and be subject to a final inspection by city officials.

“At first blush, it angered me – it’s yet another layer of government,” At-large Alderman Brandy Blanton said. “It just seems to me that we've been doing fences for a long time and we've not had a problem. It seems a little too much like Big Brother.”

Blanton's vote was the lone “no” vote on the ordinance's first reading by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Sept 11, 2012. Full disclosure: Blanton is publisher of Southern Exposure Magazine, which is owned by CMD, the publishing company that also owns the Williamson Herald.

According to Chris Bridgewater, director of the Department of Building and Neighborhood Services, the intent of the ordinance is to eliminate confusion among homeowners regarding what is allowed and what is not. Bridgewater said these revisions to existing zoning codes were proposed after a recent misunderstanding could have cost a well-intended homeowner a chunk of time, lot of money, and significant frustration.

The homeowner, Bridgewater said, phoned the BNS office to enquire whether he would need a permit to build a fence, and was accurately told “no.” Thus, the homeowner began construction on an expensive, wrought iron fence with brick columns in his front yard.

“This was absolutely true,” Bridgewater told the Williamson Herald. “But it misled the homeowner into thinking that the city did not have fence regulations.”

Midway through the construction, however, a building official notified the homeowner that the particular type of fence he was constructing was not allowed under the existing zoning ordinance. Officials later concluded that this particular style of fence “was reasonable and should be allowed,” Bridgewater said. But had it not, he would have been responsible to make the changes necessary to bring the fence into compliance.

This incident led Bridgewater's office to propose multiple changes to the ordinance for BOMA's consideration:

• Allow fences to be constructed with wrought iron and brick columns

• Clarify guidelines for fences in the historic overlay district

• Clarify how to calculate when a fence will block sight lines in accordance with the Street Technical Standards

• Provide additional options for commercial fencing

• Mandate a $35 fence permit

Officials said the permit fee would be implemented to offset the administrative costs of reviewing fence plans and site visits.

“Utilizing a permit is a proactive method of interacting with the homeowner prior to building the fence in order to ensure that the homeowner does not build something that will have to be removed and rebuilt,” Bridgewater said.

The only member of the public to address BOMA during the Oct. 9 public hearing was not in favor making changes to the existing codes governing walls and fences.

“It seems like a lot of these fences are put up on the weekends,” the speaker said. “I think you're going to have a problem enforcing it. I ask that you reconsider establishing it.”

Blanton said she has heard more from her constituents on this than any other issue since being elected to BOMA one year ago.

“I've had more response on my stance on this than any other during my tenure,” she said. “Common sense, that's what we need more of.”

On Oct. 9, BOMA opted to revise the ordinance so it would exclude agricultural fencing. Once the verbiage is finalized, it will go back to the Planning Commission for approval. After that, it will return for consideration by BOMA.




Posted on: 11/7/2012


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