Last Tuesday we had an election, and I’d like to thank the 160 or so of you who came out to vote, no matter who you voted for. I spent most of the day at the polls with the other candidates and had several conversations that I hope will ultimately prove useful and productive. I look forward to serving you and our community over the next four years.
At the September board meeting, Commissioner Brower moved, and the board agreed, to have Brandon Emory, president of Alliance Code Enforcement, “look into our ordinances” regarding fences and another related issue downtown. You can watch that conversation in the video below, though it’s difficult to follow.
On the morning of October 23, Mr. Emory emailed three draft amendments to the town clerk. That email was forwarded to all the board members and candidates the following morning. Images of the proposed changes, taken from screenshots of the documents received, are embedded below.
This has all come about because many people have complained about a decorative fence that was erected sometime this year (I think) at the corner of Moffitt Street and Coleridge Road. Those complaints are valid. The fence was erected too close to the street and created a safety issue that needs to be addressed, but sweeping changes like the one above – banning new front yard fences and creating a fifteen-foot setback from any street – is not the answer. It strikes me as an example of government overreach and an overreaction.
If there’s one thing many of us here have in common it’s the love we have for our pets and our children. I bought my house in part because it had a fenced front yard that allowed my dogs to run anywhere they wished in our yard. Another neighbor followed suit a few years ago and had a chainlink fence installed around her entire yard to protect her animals. She obtained a permit and worked within the setback the town requested.
Front fences are not a nuisance if the ordinances adopted by our elected officials are followed. I like my front yard fence. My dogs are always safe in the yard, and people think twice before entering the yard and invading my peace and privacy. I am against any outright ban on front yard fences, and, we shouldn’t have to ask for a variance and pay yet another fee, most of which will go to a code enforcement agency based in another county, just to make our homes more secure and improve the value of our properties.
Now, re-read item number two in the section above. “No fence shall be located within a street right-of-way or within 5 feet of a publicly maintained street or road.” The fence at Moffitt Street and Coleridge Road was erected flush with the utility pole line and obstructs visibility for many drivers, as well as access for utility crews to service and maintain our electrical grid, especially the poles which need to be replaced from time to time. The fence does seem, to me, to violate the letter of our current ordinance as adopted. I see no need to change the ordinance and enforce a fifteen-foot setback across the board.
I spent more than thirty working with, in, and around public utilities. One of the first things any new technician learns is that a good rule of thumb for determining the limits of a street right-of-way is to look at the utility poles. They are almost always placed at the edge of the right-of-way. Had the Moffitt Street fence been set back five feet from the pole line, the visibility issue would not exist. We might need to add wording to the ordinance to clarify that part about the utility poles because that is not common knowledge, but the proposed changes go too far.
What is more troubling to me than anything is how many of our neighbors do not realize we have ordinances and regulations like these. I guess since all property here qualifies for USDA financing many people just assume that living in Ramseur is the same as living out in the county, where almost anything goes. It’s not.
Removing the cluttered language about obstruction heights might make sense, but I have a very big problem with giving the right of final determination to any “zoning administrator”. That’s the job of a town manager, a board of adjustment, or even the board of commissioners, but we should never sign that right over to any outside consultant or contractor. I am opposed to that change.
The ordinance as currently adopted would seem to cover the Moffitt Street issue without any changes. I have no problem with contracting code enforcement services to qualified third parties like Mr. Emory’s company until such time as we are in a better position to handle those functions internally, but these proposed ordinance amendments haven’t even been presented to the planning board unless it’s been done since they were emailed to the clerk a few weeks ago. This is highly irregular. One last change Mr. Emory submitted to the board, above, would require “zoning approval” if you decide to give your front porch or entryway a facelift. I guess it could also be interpreted to apply to replacement windows as well. What’s next? Will we need permission to paint our houses a different color?
This particular amendment appears to have been instigated after a local commercial property owner tried to open a service garage where a dog grooming salon had been downtown. That business type – an automotive repair shop – is not allowed within the area commonly referred to as the “downtown overlay”, and our current zoning ordinances make that pretty clear.
If a commercial property owner fails to study and understand zoning regulations that apply to their building or land and runs afoul of code enforcement for doing things that are prohibited, that’s their problem, not the town’s. No one likes being told what they can or can’t do with property they own, but all municipalities have zoning regulations that must apply to everyone fairly and equally.
It’s my understanding that putting up a new fence anywhere in town requires a permit, as does erecting or installing a storage building or a detached garage, but apparently, some people don’t know that. I don’t think we need to adopt these changes to our zoning ordinances, and it is my belief that we need to have a public hearing on the matter before the board of commissioners makes a decision either way.
Too many times over the last few years I’ve watched issues come before the board and heard a commissioner ask, “Do we need to have a public hearing on this?” Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, but to me, if you find yourself asking that question, then the answer, regardless of what the law says, is obviously yes, we need to hold a public hearing.
We, the commissioners elected to serve this town, should always seek public input, and we should see to it that the public is notified in every way possible. For me, it’s not enough to simply satisfy a statute. We should go above and beyond the legal minimum any time it is within our authority to do so.
The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on November 21, and I hope you’ll make time to attend. To those of you who voted for me last week, thank you. I’ll try to serve you well, keep you informed, and make sure your concerns are heard, but neither I nor the entire board can do this by ourselves. We need your support and your opinions in order to make informed decisions we can all live with.