Relaxed fence bylaw passes

Duane Hicks

FORT FRANCES—Town council passed a new fencing bylaw Monday night which relaxes the rules regarding corner sight triangles, as well as fences and hedges on corner lots.
Planning and Development Superintendent Rick Hallam said his department began reviewing the fence bylaw this summer—spurred on mainly by the issue of safety at intersections where sight is impeded by an over-height fence, hedge, or other visual obstruction.
Hallam said the requirements for fences, in general, are going to stay the same. But there will be a renewed focus on corner sight triangles, for which the town has relaxed the requirements dramatically.
One change is the linear measurement of a sight triangle to be taken along the intersecting exterior lot lines, and be a distance of 4.5 metres from the intersection point measured along both directions.
Under the previous fence bylaw, that distance was nine metres.
As well, under the new bylaw, the maximum height of any fence, hedge, or other visual obstruction located on a corner lot must not be greater than 1.2 metres (four feet) above the established grade.
This is double the previous height of two feet.
Another change is the provision of sight triangle regulations only will apply to uncontrolled intersections (i.e., those without a four-way stop or traffic signal light).
Under the previous fence bylaw, sight triangle regulations applied to every intersection.
But while the restrictions have been relaxed, the new fence bylaw will not permit “grandfathering” of existing non-compliant situations (i.e., fences or hedges on corner lots) as they relate to corner sight triangles.
For example, if existing hedges or fences on corner lots are more than four feet high, home owners must reduce them.
Of course, when it comes to safety, there always may be exceptions to the rules and there continues to be a provision addressing this in the new fence bylaw.
For example, if there’s a traffic safety issue identified by the town, the town still can say, notwithstanding the rest of the bylaw, they’ve identified a particular corner as having an issue and the situation will have to be rectified.
Most members of council felt the new bylaw was a positive change.
“In reviewing the bylaw, it’s really taken a lot of grey areas out and I think, overall, it’s going to be a good piece of legislation for the community,” said Mayor Roy Avis.
The new fence bylaw passed by a vote of 6-1, with Coun. Ken Perry the lone dissenter.
The only point of contention with the new fence bylaw pertains to line fences and the Line Fences Act.
Hallam explained a regular fence and a line fence are two different things.
The former is built solely on one’s property, either right up to the property line or set back a particular distance, while the latter is a division fence that actually straddles more than one owner’s property.
“Typically, you’ll see line fences in more rural settings, such as farm country, ranching country, where you may have neighbours, one who is a grain farmer and one which may be a cattle rancher, and the grain rancher doesn’t want the cattle in his grain so they agree and construct a line fence,” Hallam noted.
Under the Municipal Act, 2001, a municipality may provide that the Line Fences Act does not apply to all or any part of the municipality. But at the same time, it must include in its bylaw provisions for apportioning the cost of line fences.
The new bylaw states that if owners of adjoining land are in agreement on the details of construction or replacement of a line fence, each of them shall construct or replace a reasonable proportion of the line fence, or the cost of any work required to do so.
If the owners of the adjoining land cannot reach an agreement, an owner desiring to construct or replace a line fence may do so if they deliver a notice to their adjoining owner, with written quotes for the quotes of the actual cost or basic cost for fencing to be built.
They must include a paragraph stating the construction of the fence will begin in 14 business days after the mailing of the notice, and the owner may seek a contributory payment from the adjoining owner.
In cases where the cost of construction or replacement is in dispute, the adjoining owner shall pay 50 percent of the cost and the owner shall pay the balance.
Once the fence is erected, the costs of repairs and maintenance shall be borne equally by the owner and adjoining owner.
Coun. Perry said this provision might cause people to go after their neighbours to have to pay for half of their fence.
“First of all, I put my neighbour on notice that I am going to build a fence and he’s going to have to pay for half of it if I choose to go down the middle of the property line, and why wouldn’t I? I want him to pay for half of it.
“But it doesn’t give me any mechanism to recover my 50 percent that he owes me other than taking him to court.
“Why we would even mention it in this bylaw and put everybody on notice that, ‘Hey, you can get 50 percent of your fence paid for by your neighbour. And if it ever needs to be repaired, that neighbour’s got to help pay for that, too.’”
Coun. Perry said the provision should be taken out.
But Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft pointed out that if an individual just went ahead and tried to build a fence on their neighbour’s property, they likely would get sued.
“I would think there would have to be an agreement between neighbours before a line fence could go up, and then you could get into a dispute about who pays for what,” he said.
“If there’s a dispute in regards to the cost, that comes after the fact,” echoed Hallam. “You’re not going to get to that point, there’s not going to be any dispute over the apportionment of costs, unless you’ve agreed to build a fence. . . .
“If you’re going to force the issue, then you’re going to have to take other measures,” he stressed. “The Town of Fort Frances does not wish to be mediating those types of things.”
“The fence bylaw itself is a very good bylaw, let’s not lose sight of that,” said Coun. Andrew Hallikas. “The one contentious issue among the group [the Planning and Development executive committee] was the line fences portion of it.
“Upon enquiring, I found out there had been no cases of an issue involving a line fence in Fort Frances to anyone’s knowledge. Is that true?”
“That is correct as far as I know,” replied Hallam. “In my tenure with the town, I have never seen a line fence constructed in Fort Frances.
“I’ve seen a lot of fences, but not line fences.”
Coun. Hallikas said even though the town has had no cases involving line fences, it was wise to have a reasonable process in the bylaw should there be some sort of problem with line fence costs.
In related news, Hallam said administration probably will be coming forward in the new year with a report to the Planning and Development executive committee regarding a fee or permit system for fences.
(Fort Frances Times)