North Charleston considers limiting height of fences and shrubbery
John Hamrick III has a tall wooden fence that keeps neighborhood kids out of his pool in Old North Charleston and provides him some privacy. But under proposed city regulations, Hamrick could be required to tear it down.
The new rules have been going through study and revisions for months, and are aimed at requiring city residents to have attractive fences and shrubbery that aren’t too tall. Existing fences that don’t meet the requirements would have to be taken down within five years.
“Well, I wouldn’t like that,” said Hamrick. “I should have the right to swim in my pool without people looking at me.”
The latest version of the rules would limit fences or shrubbery to a height of 4 feet in front yards, and on a corner lot like Hamrick’s, both street-facing sides would be considered a front yard. Closer to an intersection, the height limit would drop to 30 inches.
“Over the years, there have been a number of concerns about the appearance of some fences that have been installed in neighborhoods,” said city spokesman Ryan Johnson. “This is an attempt to address the concerns and create the definition of a fence.”
He said the proposed ordinance “would stop your neighbor from building a fence next to you out of plywood and razor wire.”
The rules would also apply to businesses located on residentially zoned property.
New fences would have to be permitted and approved by the city. Properties zoned commercial or industrial could still have fences up to 10 feet tall, and could use barbed or razor wire.
At the most-recent meeting of the city’s Planning Commission meeting, last week, Chairwoman Suzanne Thigpen and a few other commissioners suggested that no fences or bushes should be allowed at all in “sight visibility triangle” areas where they could prevent drivers from seeing traffic on cross streets.
The visibility triangle is an area extending 25 to 35 feet from an intersection, along both sides of a corner property, then connected diagonally across the property to form a triangle.
The idea is that drivers should be able to see across the corner of the property, to view traffic on the cross street.
“If it’s in your line of vision, to make a safe turn, then it shouldn’t be there,” said Thigpen, who said she was in an accident some years ago involving an obstructed view at a cross street. “Nothing but grass.”
A few other commissioners agreed, but the Planning Commission did not end up recommending that change. Instead they recommended the proposed ordinance to City Council without changes, on a 5-3 vote.
“I thought the purpose of this was to get rid of all those dilapidated fences,” said Commissioner Thomas Brinson, who voted against recommending the ordinance to City Council, as did commissioners James Kramer and Sammie Douan.
Before the vote several members of the Planning Commission incorrectly assured Hamrick, who attended the meeting, that his fence would not be affected by the proposed rules. But Hamrick did raise a point at the meeting that it turns out will keep the ordinance from proceeding to City Council for a vote.
The city has regulations that require tall fences around swimming pools, for safety, and the proposed height rules could be in conflict. The North Charleston legal staff is going to take another look at the ordinance, and then it will likely return to the Planning Commission once again.
“Nobody wants bad looking fences around,” Hamrick said. “But there are reasons for fences to be the height they are.”Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.