City moves to ease fence rules for corner lots

City moves to ease fence rules for corner lots

PAWTUCKET – A move to ease requirements for owners of corner lots who want to put up a fence took a step forward last week after the City Council’s ordinance subcommittee sent new rules to the full council for an upcoming vote.

Committee Chairman Terry Mercer gave the example of a resident at the corner of Cedarcrest Drive and Monticello Road who had a 6-foot fence for decades, running parallel with Cedarcrest, before someone apparently complained and he was cited by zoning and told to reduce its height to no taller than 4 feet.

That homeowner subsequently had to seek a zoning variance, costing him $500, and as is typical in a situation such as this, where good sight lines are maintained and there was no history of accidents, it was granted, said Mercer.

“If they are going to be granted so readily, why make someone go through the hoop of paying $500,” he said, which is money that goes toward advertising the fact that the resident is seeking the variance.

Mercer said he encouraged that homeowner to go to nearby property owners in a similar situation but where there hadn’t been complaints, and to also check on traffic and accidents. This situation and one in Councilor John Barry’s district helped propel this initiative forward, he said.

The change recommended at the subcommittee level at the Feb. 5 council meeting allows zoning, which is already the arbiter of fence heights, to acknowledge that one part of the yard is really a side yard and not the front yard, where they would typically both be seen as front yards.

It doesn’t eliminate height or sight line issues for other types of properties, emphasized Mercer.

He said his push on this matter is similar to one he made in 2015 to make it easier for owners of smaller properties to install swimming pools.

“Let’s just craft better language,” he told The Breeze.

The language given an initial nod last week emerged from a council request to consider ways to reduce the number of residents required to go to the Zoning Board when seeking to install side yard fences greater than 3 feet in maximum height. The City Planning Commission made a favorable recommendation on it last Dec. 19.

“In an instance where a property is a corner lot and has multiple yards with street frontage, the determination of which lot lines are the front, side, or rear for the purposes of maximum allowable fence height shall be made by the zoning director in coordination with the Planning Department as required,” states the new language. All fences located on a corner shall comply with street corner visibility setback requirements in keeping with local law, it adds.

Maximum heights for fences in residential zoning districts are currently follows:

• In a front yard, 3 feet for a closed fence where more than 50 percent of the side is covered and 4 feet for a fence where more than 75 percent of the fence can be seen through.

• 6 feet for a side yard.

• And 6 feet for a rear yard.