Last Tuesday, the Board of County Supervisors passed an ordinance regarding the height of fences in front yards. This ordinance was a result of a citizen driven process that actually began nearly four years ago.
Citizens complained to their supervisors about conditions in their non-HOA neighborhoods about six foot chain link and six foot vinyl fencing in the front yards of some of their neighbors. At the time, there was no ordinance restricting that height…now there is.
Fences built in front yards must be no higher than 42 inches and may not be opaque. That means the beautiful white picket fence or the rustic split rail is still acceptable, but a board on board fence is not. The front yard ends at the corner of the house so you must continue the same height restriction down the side yard until you reach the house.
The logic behind this decision is one of safety. Imagine pulling out of a driveway on Dale Boulevard and being unable to see if a child is walking or a car is coming because there is a tall, opaque fence blocking your view.
I have attempted to keep Patch readers current with the process by columns in June and July of 2011, "Don’t Fence Me In," "The Fences of Prince William County," and "Where Do We Go From Here?" It was the pleasure of the Board of County Supervisors that prompted the convening of a committee comprised of staff and citizens to determine if change was warranted or desired. All the supervisors were invited to attend or send representatives to the fence committee meetings hosted by supervisor John Jenkins. We attended numerous meetings, working with experts in every conceivable field. We had input from Virginia Department of Transportation and Prince William County Department of Transportation. We worked with the county attorneys to determine what language was legally defensible and what would not hold up if challenged. We worked with our zoning administrator and planning office.
The document underwent revision after revision to make it the best possible condition for the safety of residents. We presented our changes to the existing ordinance to the DORAC (see attached PDF for description) for a citizen and staff review without bias. Their recommendations were added to the revisions. We presented to the Planning Commission, where again revisions were made to be certain the impact and intent of the revisions were as minimal as possible while still protecting the residents affected. All of these meetings are open to the public and all the supervisors are notified of these proposed changes. Public notice is placed in the News and Messenger and agendas for both the Planning Commission and the BOCS are posted on the county web page. I would like to reassure anyone who is concerned about the changes there is no “Gestapo Fence Enforcement” in your future.
I do want to note this for you: Fences require a zoning permit. (Sheds on foundations, swimming pools and most changes to your home require a zoning permit, too.) The need for a permit is not new…you have always needed a permit.
Because Property Code Enforcement is reactive instead of proactive, It is unlikely that anyone will ever just show up and ask if you have a permit for your fence. PCE inspectors respond to property code complaints. If your fence is falling down, you have boards missing, AND the fence in your front yard is over 42 inches high, you may have to make repairs and get your fence permitted to achieve compliance. It is also possible to request a variance from the zoning in certain circumstances. Each case would be considered on an individual basis in that event.
There are some other changes and I have provided the document for your perusal. If you have any questions at all, please let me know. I’ll provide answers and if I don’t know the answer, will refer to someone who can. Here are a few final points: Every revision was made to protect the rights of others. If you feel your rights are now restricted, it is likely you were previously infringing on the rights of others. This ordinance is specifically crafted to affect small lots and neighbors living in close proximity to each other where no HOA exists to protect owner’s rights.
Also attached are my remarks to the BOCS on Feb. 7 and a couple of photos to show what is not allowed by the new ordinance.