Dear Friends and Supporters:
One of the most common requests for exceptions (or “variances”) under our zoning code is fence heights. In general, the maximum heights for fences in Harrison’s residential areas are four feet in a front yard and six-and-a-half feet in a side or rear yard.
Our Zoning Board of Appeals is inundated with requests to permit fences taller than these limits. Applicants cite many reasons, usually sensible: increased safety for their children and pets, increased privacy and security for their homes, and reduced noise from heavily trafficked streets. Our zoning code is indifferent to these factors – its height limitations apply regardless of individual circumstances.
Though the Zoning Board is sympathetic to residents’ plights, it has traditionally been reluctant to grant exceptions for taller fences. Though many people prefer taller fences, they could harm the attractive appearance of our town. Imagine driving down a street with 8-foot fences on both sides – the fences would create an unattractive canyon or tunnel effect. Higher fences, if widespread, could ultimately harm property values throughout our town.
Perhaps it’s time for our code provisions with respect to fences to be updated to reflect our ever-changing world. In recent decades, vehicle ownership and traffic has increased exponentially. Is it sensible for the fence height limit for a house on North Street, one of Harrison’s busiest thoroughfares, to be identical to the one for a house on Palma Drive, which is generally used only by people who live there? The current zoning code mandates exactly that.
Other jurisdictions have addressed the fence-height issue by linking height limits to traffic volumes. Residents with homes on highly trafficked streets are entitled to higher fences, while those on streets with less traffic must conform to the general townwide height limit. Another approach would be to grant our Zoning Board explicit authority to take traffic volumes into account when granting exceptions to fence height maximums.
Either alternative would be preferable to the current situation which has become a source of mounting frustration for Harrison residents and our Zoning Board. What are your thoughts?
Frank, Rachel and Adam
Moving Harrison Forward
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