Grosse Pointe Park changes fence ordinance to address natural fences

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Grosse Pointe Park officials realized they needed to address a growing problem.

Namely, it’s the problem associated with fences that, well, grow. The city’s ordinances have always placed limits on the height and location of traditional fences — those made out of materials like wood or metal, for example — but de facto fences created via the placement of tall shrubbery or trees, such as arbor vitae, slipped through the cracks.

“It’s been a challenge not only for code enforcement, but also for public safety,” said City Manager Nick Sizeland. Sizeland said overgrown hedges have, in some cases, expanded outward, blocking large portions of the sidewalk and making it difficult for pedestrians to get past them.

During a March 7 City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously in favor of revising its fence ordinance by adding living fences to it.

“The goal is to treat (the two types of fences) in a similar manner … without appearing to pick and choose some fences over others,” Assistant City Attorney Erica Shell said.

Shell said large hedges — especially those on corner lots — sometimes impede visibility for cyclists, motorists and/or pedestrians.

“We have a lot of those in our city,” City Councilman Vikas Relan said.

Relan said the revised ordinance will “really improve safety.”

The city isn’t planning on going on a citation-writing spree, but the revised ordinance will be enforced. Shell said the amended ordinance allows code enforcement officers to respond if they see a problem while they’re out in the city or if a resident files a complaint about a particular property.

“The goal is not for code enforcement to go out to every single house with a tape measure,” Shell said.

The amended ordinance states that living fences in front yards can’t be taller than 4 feet and should be trimmed regularly to make sure they don’t protrude onto city sidewalks or impede “surrounding lines of sight.”

A rear yard living fence can be no taller than 6 feet, and side yard fences are limited to 4 feet in height, unless the resident has written permission for a 6-foot-tall living fence from adjacent neighbors or the fence is along a street or alley.

Shell said “10 feet is simply too tall” for a front yard living fence.

Residents need to trim their living fences so that they comply with the ordinance.

The ordinance also mandates that property owners replace dead or dying sections of a living fence. This is in keeping with a section of the fence ordinance that requires maintenance of non-living fences.

“A fence is a fence,” Shell said.

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