The Tomah City Council overwhelmingly approved the first reading of an amendment to the city’s fence ordinance Tuesday.

The amendment eliminates the requirement for property owners to get signed permission from the adjacent property owner to build a fence closer than two feet to the property line and requires property owners applying to build a fence to provide a property survey map depicting the proposed fence in relation to the property boundaries.

Also, the amendment allows fences over six feet tall to be built in special situations when they’re built for visual screening for onsite utilities, dumpsters or similar items with approval by the city’s Planning Commission.

Councilman Luke Bohlen (District 2) cast the only dissenting vote.

He agreed with the requirement of the property survey. However, after speaking to constituents, he did not agree with allowing property owners to build fences less than 2 feet from their property line without notifying and getting the approval of the adjacent property owner.

“That leads us down paths of lawsuits, un-neighborliness, disagreement and people saying to the council, ‘I wasn’t aware, I can’t believe I didn’t need to be notified,’ and that’s kind of the last thing that we want people feeling like they weren’t notified, that their property rights weren’t respected,” he said. “Simply put, I don’t see that there’s been a problem that this is solving ... I see other problems being created.”

It can also cause problems with maintenance of the fences, Bohlen said. He said it creates the possibility that a property owner needs to enter onto the adjacent property for maintenance and repair.

“That brings up a host of concerns among constituents I’ve spoken with about people being on your property to access their fence, to maintain it, liability of insurance claims if injury occurred while maintaining their fence.”

He said it could create situations of “impractical closeness — six inches, 1/2 inch or seven inches, from the lot line.”

City administrator Roger Gorius said one reason behind the creation of the amendment was to allow property owners the ability to do as they wish with their property.

Gorius said he and zoning administrator/building inspector Shane Rolff have received comments from residents about the setback of two feet. He said residents have told city officials that they pay taxes on the two-foot perimeter and should be able to exercise the variance.

“That’s the other thing that comes to life when we hear people talk about this. I’m not voicing these concerns for myself; this is what we hear in building inspections and this is what we hear in other places,” Gorius said.

In other business:

The council accepted the donation of land from the Tomah Area School District to be used as a westward extension of the city’s walking trail to allow safe passage around the Hwy. ET roadway.

The council approved an agreement between the city of Tomah and Western Technical College regarding EMT training.

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