Chain link fences, solid privacy fences, and "shadow box-style" fences are now prohibited in Ottawa Hills, following Village council's adoption of proposed changes to the Village zoning code. Existing "non-conforming" fences may remain, but those in a "state of disrepair" will have to be removed. Any new fences must conform to the new regulations.
Council held the third and final reading of the proposed ordinance at its meeting on Aug. 7 and subsequently passed the measure unanimously.
The changes have increased restrictions on certain styles and materials of fencing in the Village. Zoning commission members in the past have expressed a preference for split rail fencing, wrought iron fencing, and other "open-style" fencing.
The new code requires all new fences be at least 50 percent "open" for the "free passage of light and air," except for brick or stone walls approved in advance by the Zoning Commission. A stockade or solid privacy fence is considered zero percent open and is prohibited. Acceptable materials are wood, aluminum, iron, and metal. Fences made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are also allowed if the material "closely simulates wood, aluminum, or iron."
"Standard white high gloss" PVC fences are prohibited.
Fences also have to be of a color that "will minimize visibility" of the fence to surrounding properties. An exception is white picket-style fences.
The zoning code retains a number of current regulations, including: limiting the height of a fence to 48 inches above grade (posts could be as much as 52 inches tall); structural members (posts and rails) have to be on the "inside" of the fence; and fences must be maintained "in a good state of repair" at all times.
The changes do not lessen prohibitions on fencing in front yards, or beyond the home's "build lines," and it retains provisions for deer fencing, similar to the current ordinance.
In other business, Village Council voted to spend $30,000 to hire the Nature Conservancy to develop an environmental strategic plan to help the Village advance its continuing efforts to further improve and better utilize the Ottawa River and surrounding parklands.
As part of the plan, the Nature Conservancy will identify "actionable projects" pertaining to the river ecosystem and water quality; flood plain habitat restoration; and environmental education and recreational opportunities. The Conservancy will use the goals and objectives identified by the Village's Environmental Task Force in 2016 as a guide.
The Nature Conservancy will devise strategies for Village-owned lands, but also "include opportunities to engage and empower residents to ... take action on their private property."
Councilman Jeff Gibbs, head of the Environmental Task Force, recommended hiring the Nature Conservancy for the project.
"If we don't do this, we should just shelve the task force and the report," Gibbs said. "They will identify projects up and down the river. If we are going to move forward with anything, we need a plan. This is the right group to use to move forward."
Under the plan presented to council, the Nature Conservancy will identify locations for adopt-a-natural area initiatives, host training workshops, craft educational articles, work with Ottawa Hills schools to discuss restoration projects and curriculum possibilities, and plan a community-wide natural area work day.
In August, Village council also approved shade tree and street light assessments for 2017. The shade tree assessment remained at 40 cents per front foot, meaning a home on a parcel of land that measures 150 feet wide will pay $60 per year. The street light assessment remained at 54 cents per front foot. It only applies to property owners in areas with street lights.
The shade tree assessment generates around $70,000 annually, which closely mirrors the amount the Village spends annually for routine trimming, removal, and replacement of trees on Village-owned land, or in the Village's right of way.
The street light assessment generates approximately $54,800 per year, which covers the annual operating costs for the street lights, including the occasional replacement of damaged poles.