If fences make good neighbors, do 6-foot-high fences make even better ones? The Village of Brookfield may soon find out, if a plan pitched by the Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral wins approval from village trustees.
During Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting of the village board, Sbiral suggested amending Brookfield’s ordinance regarding fences and hedges that would provide 6-foot-high fences between side yards and allow, in some instances, side yard fences to be built next to each other.
The reason for the proposed changes, Sbiral said is that the current ordinance is confusing for both residents and fence contractors, puts an unfair financial burden on property owners by mandating unstandardized fence heights and is open to different interpretations.
“With the existing ordinance, the language is unclear and open to interpretations,” Sbiral said. “The ordinance language is verbose, which makes it difficult for residents to understand what is and isn’t permitted. Some residents have raised concerns that are causing issues with timely construction and affordability.”
Currently, Brookfield property owners are able to erect a 6-foot-high fence in a side yard only if the yard is adjacent to a public alley, a railroad right of way, a parking lot, a commercial district, or a main street (47th Street, Ogden Avenue, 31st Street, Eberly Avenue).
The current ordinance mandates that a fence greater than 5 feet high is not allowed in the side yard. It further restricts fence heights on lots less than 40 feet wide to a 5-foot open fence or a 4-foot solid fence along a side yard.
But since most pre-assembled fences available for purchase at home improvement outlets are 6 feet tall, Sbiral said that Brookfield, in effect, was requiring residents to special order fences at a greater cost.
“This 12-inch change may seem like a lot, but it’s a very standard product to purchase,” Sbiral said.
Sbiral added that many surrounding communities allow 6-foot-high fences, including Countryside, LaGrange, Hinsdale, Lyons and Westchester.
But some trustees appeared wary of the proposal, saying towns that allow 6-foot fences generally have larger lots and 6-foot fences on smaller lots might create a walled-off effect. Trustee Linda Stevanovich said 6-foot-high fences might be able to conceal suspicious activity more easily. She added that the shorter fences were a “friendliness” issue.
“We’re just offering another reason for neighbors not to talk to each other,” she said.
Sbiral also suggested the rewritten ordinance allow some way for fences to be built back-to-back in certain cases.
“I can see scenarios where the language allows that to happen,” Sbiral said, “for example, if a neighbor has a 4-foot chain link fence that’s an ongoing maintenance or code enforcement concern.”
Trustee Alan Dorobiala questioned how the area between fences would be maintained, leading Sbiral to say that the code could include a required 24-inch space between the fences to allow for maintenance.
Stevanovich also criticized the back-to-back fence issue, saying she “could see them all over the village.”
“I think we should stick with one fence per lot line, as difficult as that may be,” she said. “If there are code issues, then the Code Department needs to stamp on that guy and make him comply.”
She also felt that determining which properties might qualify for the double fences would be “so subjective.”
Brookfield resident James Mann, a former longtime village manager, said that instead of the board and staff changing the fence ordinance on their own, they should involve residents in the discussion via the Brookfield Plan Commission.
“The board should give consideration of greater use of the plan commission in considering this ordinance,” Mann said.
The current ordinance was a direct result of public meetings that involved both the plan commission and residents, he added.
“You can always pick out a dozen books and write an ordinance from those books,” Mann said. “The fence ordinance has worked well. To go to 6 feet just because it’s cheaper for residents doesn’t take into account the size of lots.”
Village trustees will likely be presented with a new fence ordinance at their June 26 meeting. At that time, they can approve, deny or modify the new code.