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Local

Fence installs now require permits

Proposal for $25 permit fee fails to pass city council approval

Increased reports of fence rules violations and other related disputes has prompted the city to amend its ordinance, providing more clarity to residents for the future. The Newton City Council  approved the amendment, which was recommended by the planning and zoning commission. However, the fee associated with the permit review process failed to pass council approval.
Increased reports of fence rules violations and other related disputes has prompted the city to amend its ordinance, providing more clarity to residents for the future. The Newton City Council approved the amendment, which was recommended by the planning and zoning commission. However, the fee associated with the permit review process failed to pass council approval.

To meet the city’s standards for fence installations, residents are now required to get a permit before building the enclosing structure on their property.

Newton City Council approved the city’s request to make changes to its ordinance after staff experienced an increase in violations and disputes regarding fences in town. Property owners must adhere to the city’s administrative permit review process to ensure they are aware of and comply to existing regulations.

Erin Chambers, director of community development for the City of Newton, said citizens who want to make changes to or replace an existing fence must also acquire a permit from the city to make sure their fence still meets certain standards. The city summarizes its regulations as follows:

• Fences can be constructed inside or on the property lines

• Fence height is limited to four feet in high in front yards (defined as any area between the house and a street) and must be at least 50 percent open.

• Fences are limited to seven feet in all other yards and may be privacy-style.

Since the city had not done permits in the past, it’s unclear how many fences are built each year. Still, based on inquiries, she said the city receives fewer than one fence request per week.

“We have just had so many times where fences are removed (or) replaced and they’re not in correct locations, or they’re not done properly,” Chambers said. “We have, as staff, had to have people tear down the fence that they just installed. So this really is a safeguard for citizens.”

However, the city’s other proposal to instill a $25 fee for a fence permit did not pass a majority vote from the council during its Monday, July 20, meeting.

According to city documents, the fence permit review has “administrative costs associated with it.” The purpose of the $25 fee is to off-set some of the costs “while not being overly burdensome to the public.”

Councilperson Evelyn George supports the changes to the ordinance but asked city staff to allow time for residents to acclimate to the fence permit review process and not charge them for six months or one year. Chambers said there are no permits within the city that have a $0 fee, or cost nothing.

“If that’s the will of the council, certainly that would be fine with staff,” George said. “If you see that there’s value just in getting a permit without a fee.”

A citizen called in to the Zoom meeting and said a $25 permit fee should only apply to a new construction of a fence. If a person in town is “replacing an old fence,” he believed that so long as it’s up to code it should be acceptable to replace it without paying another permit fee to do so.

Despite George’s objections, she did not propose an amended motion. Instead, she would vote it down for now and have it brought up in budget discussions. As a result, the vote failed to pass at a 3-2 vote since the sixth councilperson, Randy Ervin, was not in attendance. George and councilperson Mark Hallam voted “no.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or
cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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