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BoA maintains high standard for high fence

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Those wanting a taller fence in the city better have a good reason in hand when they come to the Board of Adjustment for a variance, as two northeast Austinites learned Monday.

Josh Washman told the board that he and his girlfriend, homeowner Bridgette Berkes, wanted to maintain their 8-foot fence at 7504 Creston Lane due to the high crime in the area.

“Our theory was if people are coming through the neighborhood and trying to rob people, they aren’t going to come to an 8-foot fence and choose to jump that one,” he said.

Berkes explained, “We have a large transient population – right there at I-35 and 183. It seems like we are just a hot area because people can get away quicker.”

Washman said they found the inspiration for the fence on Pinterest and hired a contractor to do the job.

“The problem came after the fence was built and we had a notice that we were in violation,” said Washman.

He explained that after receiving that notice, he worked with the city and replaced an 8-foot section of the fence in order to allow it access to service an electrical post. He was asking for a variance in order to allow the rest of the fence to remain at 8-feet high, though city code limits solid fences to 6 feet in average height, or a maximum of 7 feet.

Because the variance would require the support of all of the board members present, the case was postponed in order to allow the full board to be in attendance and to give the couple more time to explain their unique hardship.

Board Member Rahm McDaniel was among the board members who asked for more proof that the area was, in fact, “high crime,” as the couple had claimed.

“I certainly can’t argue with how you feel about it,” he said. “This is just the first time I’ve ever heard anyone refer to this neighborhood as high-crime or unsafe … and I know a lot of people who live over there.”

McDaniel also said he was having trouble seeing how the hardship was unique to the property.

In addition to the threat of crime, the couple noted that their neighbors had an unfenced pool that they felt posed a danger to their four children. Berkes added that their property is adjacent to a church, so a lack of privacy was a concern.

Under the code, 8-foot fences are permitted on properties adjacent to some commercial uses. Though that does not include churches, some board members could see the reasoning extended to include churches and allowed for the danger the pool could pose, if not the general idea that the taller fence was needed to keep the couple’s children safe in the yard.

“Having kids was a choice, not a hardship,” said Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell. “Using them as the reason doesn’t sit too well with me.”

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