Property owners now have more options for where they can build fences.
Still, some changes residents asked for are beyond the city’s influence.
After more than an hour-and-a-half of discussion, the Common Council loosened its restrictions on building fences within easements Tuesday, July 23.
Utility easements allow authorized companies and agencies to access land they don’t own to work on or install underground utilities. The size of these easements vary, and city ordinances previously did not allow property owners to build fences on any part of these easements, in effect reducing the usable size of a property.
The change, which passed on an 8-4 vote, allows for fences to be built where no underground infrastructure is present in the case of an easement area that is more than 12 feet wide. No fence can be located within the boundaries of a drainage swale, and fences can be built along and parallel to the property line between two parcels in order to connect to a legal, existing fence.
It started with complaints from Marsha and Michael Berigan, who found out they were unable to build a fence where they wanted to and spoke during the June Plan Commission meeting.
Commissioners suggested that the council completely remove the language that prevents fences from being built in utility easements, and the council asked the Public Works and Utilities committees to review the ordinance.
When it returned to the council, Alds. Tim Riley (D-1) Phil Caravello (D-2), Jean Ligocki (D-2) and Greg Jenson (D-3) voted against the amendment.
While all of the alders expressed empathy regarding the Berigans’ desire to build a fence in order to keep their young children safe, some worried about the safety and impact on all customers beyond those who wanted to build fences.
Riley and Jenson voted against because they wanted to remove restrictions for property owners, and Ligocki felt the ordinance wasn’t ready for action.
“It seems as though the way this has been approached is to look for all the potential problems, all the reasons to say no, and not enough reasons to say yes to the request by the Berigans,” Riley said.
Regina Hirsch voted in favor despite “feeling for the family.”
“It’s not (the utility’s) job to remove fences or work in unsafe conditions, it’s the council’s job to make sure they have safe conditions and are able to do their jobs,” she said.
Stoughton Utilities director Jill Weiss said the reason for the prior limitations came down to the realities of time compared to inconvenience. She said when a recent gas leak required that power be turned off in the downtown area, the majority of calls were from customers concerned about the heat and their health.
“It goes beyond the individual property owners and our ability to respond quickly to help support the entire community,” she said.
Homeowners wishing to build fences or other structures in easements have limitations beyond Stoughton Utilities and the city’s ordinances. Through Stoughton Utilities’ research on the several homeowners who expressed concerns, most of the restrictions that prevented them from building fences were Department of Transportation setbacks and ATC easements.
“It’s important for homeowners, if they don’t understand what the situation is, to reach out to us because we can very quickly provide some information that might help them better understand what the restrictions are and what the source is because in many cases it’s not the ordinance,” mayor Tim Swadley said.