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Vote Over Fence Regulations Stalled

After hearing further concerns from residents and citing a lack of sufficient information, members of the Webster Groves City Council decided to delay a vote on a proposed fencing ordinance.

Mark Regina, of Webster Groves, is a residential property owner who has a fence in his front yard that doesn't meet the standards of a proposed fencing ordinance before the Webster Groves City Council. When he found out about the discrepancy, he became quite concerned and decided to see who else in his neighborhood was in the same situation.

"Nearly two out of three fences that are in front yards...would not meet these proposed requirements," Regina told council members at their meeting earlier this week. "And where are all the complaints? To me, (these changes) are not warranted all because of one fence."

Regina was referring to the controversial that was recently erected at along the intersection of Harper Avenue and Oak Street.

Another resident, Pam Larson, restated safety concerns made at the , saying that she and others living near the fence are "very traumatized" by Algonquin's "boarding off of three entire streets" with a structure that can't be seen through.

Additionally, resident Mary Ellen Kruger provided council members with detailed information comparing requirements used by six neighboring municipalities (as well as St. Louis County) and concluded that Webster Groves should enforce similar standards, especially regarding the Algonquin fence.

The City of Oakland, where Westborough Country Club is located, "specifically excludes stockade fences," Kruger said, adding that the neighboring cities would have pushed the Algonquin fence back "up to thirty feet" using their rules.

Combining the 48-inch height of the fence with pavement on Harper Avenue sinking down 2-3 feet below the sidewalk in some spots, Kruger discerned that this relative 6-7 foot barrier severely impedes drivers' sight at the corner in question. According to Kruger, many residents "have seen several near-accidents due to the sight limitation."

City Manager Steve Wylie said that he had sent a request to Algonquin asking that they move back the corner portion of the fence in question. "I have reason to believe that they are going to give that serious consideration," he said.

Wylie also said that since the current wording and definitions used in the ordinance would force much of the town to be retrofitted, that it "will not work."

The council was in agreement that the wording that outlined what an "ornamental" or "decorative" fence is was not satisfactory. In fact, it was the issue that spawned the ordinance to begin with.

Director of Planning Roger Grow said "beauty is in the eye of the beholder...and to put that in black and white is virtually impossible." Grow suggested that an easier process would be to leave it up to the permit applicant to make their appeal to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) after a rejection by a separate staff member.

The ARB currently evaluates non-residential (institutional) fence permits in separate case-by-case contexts, but Mayor Gerry Welch suggested that the board help define allowable residential fences. "There's such a variety of designs that we decided not to do that," responded Grow.

Council member Ken Burns' primary concern regarding the Algonquin fence is of safety, and that the organization will hopefully put that to rest voluntarily. Echoing earlier comments by Regina, he stressed the importance of residents with "two front yards" (those with homes on corner lots) being allowed adequate leeway to build fences for their own privacy.

Welch and other council members agreed. "The original ordinance was working fine until we couldn't define this," Welch said. "All we need is the definition (from the ARB)."

Burns expressed concerns that "getting into subjective criteria is a dangerous place," and he encouraged the council "to keep this as simple and succinct as possible."

Council member Greg Mueller agreed that the ordinance needs to correct the Algonquin issue without punishing residents who've done nothing wrong.

The council decided to delay the vote and that a work session, in about two weeks time, would be dedicated to assessing the ARB definitions and any other pertinent information that would be gathered in the meantime so that appropriate changes can be made to the ordinance.

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