Some property owners have been pushing for the city to allow building fences in easements, and alders appear poised to make that happen.
The Common Council has sent a proposed ordinance that would do so back to the Utilities and Public Works committees for more research and continued discussion. The council’s discussion on Tuesday, June 25, included concerns about how utility companies could get access and who would be liable for replacing a fence in the case of emergency access.
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 do not allow property owners to build fences on these easements, in effect reducing the size of a usable property.
Some property owners complained about having 30-foot easements, while others are only six feet.
The Plan Commission supported an amendment to the ordinance that would entirely remove the prohibition on building fences. Its June 10 vote on the amendment was 7-0 in favor.
Some property owners told the council the existing ordinance is “unfair.”
“I understand that things have to be discussed, and I understand that you have to look out for the people and homeowners with these easements, but I would say that you should give us our due, let us decide how to manage these easements,” resident Glenn Dillard said.
Resident Katherine Napier said that the easement line is so close to her house it prevents her family from building a deck.
“I just want to be able to put up some kind of barrier to keep my children safe,” she said.
Alders who spoke up during the meeting shared concerns about protecting children, but they agreed with city attorney Matt Dregne and Stoughton Utilities director Jill Weiss’s suggestion that the Public Works and Utilities committees should take a closer look at the ordinance. That meeting is planned for mid July.
“We want to get our hands around what is needed from the standpoint of making sure the utility easement can function for the Stoughton Utilities purpose and if there is a way we can modify this to make it more workable,” Dregne said.
Resident Marsha Berigan, in a letter to the city, suggested keeping the ordinance as it’s written, with the addition of allowing the affected utility to approve a fence on a case by case basis.
Weiss said Tuesday she was uncomfortable with leaving it subjective, and Dregne said that would leave the city open to liability to create a gray area in which a city-owned utility could make its own decisions to act against a city ordinance.
Ald. Regina Hirsch (Dist. 3) said she wants to make sure the community is satisfied while also protecting the city.
Ald. Ben Heili (D-4) said there are “a lot of things that could go wrong.”
“I’m glad we had so much feedback from the community tonight to give us a wide range of these cases where fences might be needed and to give an urgency of that need so we can find some sort of a solution,” he said.