Homeowner spends thousands in battle with city over fence

Last summer, city planning staff notified a Curtis Park homeowner that her recently constructed fence was in violation of ordinances regulating fence height and setback. The homeowner, who asked not to be identified, decided to contest the determination.

She had to file a request for a hearing before the city design director to permit a deviation from the ordinance’s requirements. The filing fee was $3,743.04.

The city’s basic fence ordinance limits fence heights within a zone set back from the property line. The setback zone for a single-family home with a side yard facing a street is 12.5 feet. The setback zone between homes is 3 feet or 5 feet depending on lot size. Under the city fence and setback ordinances, fence height in the side yard setback zone is limited to 6 feet. In addition, a side-yard fence facing a street is limited to 4 feet, unless the fence is at least 5 feet from the property line.

The homeowner’s new fencing is a solid wood fence 6 feet high with a 16-inch decorative wood lattice atop that. Both the street side and interior portions of the fence are on the property line.

The city staff’s original position was that the fence between the houses violated the 6-foot height limit and that the fence facing the side street violated the 4-foot height limit.

The design director’s hearing was held online Jan. 29. City staff conceded that the fence facing the side street only violated the 6-foot height limit after the homeowner submitted a neighbor’s affidavit asserting that a fence had been at the property line since she bought her property in 1962.

The owner didn’t know her fence was over height. Photo/Joan Cusick

The homeowner made these points:

  • She didn’t know the fence was over height until notified by the city, and had no intent to violate the law.
  • She needed a higher fence for security and privacy. There had been several break-ins and the high floor level allowed people on the street to look into her kitchen.
  • Many side-street fences in the immediate neighborhood are the same height as hers.
  • Everyone complimented her on the fence, praising its handsomeness.
  • Fourteen neighbors sent letters to the city supporting the homeowner. Four letters opposed her fence, but only one of them was from a nearby resident.

The design director said he would grant a deviation for the height of the interior fence, as the public interest in limiting that fence to 6 feet was not strong. However, he said the public interest in limiting the fence height next to the sidewalk was stronger because the “public’s right to walk down the street without a wall next to them” was impinged. He directed that the 16-inch lattice be removed.

The homeowner has appealed the decision. The filing fee for an appeal is $4,000.

The Sacramento Planning and Design Commission will hear the appeal, likely at its March 25 meeting.

City ordinances regarding fences can be found online at: http://www.qcode.us/codes/sacramento/.

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