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Fence Ordinance: The Almost Final Chapter

An update to the fence ordinance with supporting documentation.

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, ," "," and "" 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.

Bob Wills February 11, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Where do hedges come into play which you can not see thru in this fence zoning law? The Va Supreme Court ruled that there is no variance allowed what so ever to the set back requirments of the zoning laws so how can a variance be granted for fencing ?
Connie Moser February 11, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Bob, hedges come under property code enforcement if they are overgrown. If the hedges block the VDOT determined line of sight, the hedges will have to be trimmed to compliance. The concern is for safety, being able to see pedestrians, cars backing out of driveways, and drivers of cars being able to see around corners and intersections. We didn't address hedges in the fence ordinance because those rules are already on the books. When I stated you may be granted a variance under certain circumstances, I did not state anything about the set back requirements. I was considering the height of some fences that are currently in place and may exceed the new height restrictions. Thank you for your comment.
bill cummings February 14, 2012 at 08:34 AM
to the gfe(ms.moser),does your newly passed ordinance in any way violate the original Dale City RPC?
Connie Moser February 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Bill, The original covenants for the RPC stated no fences in front yards. I would have loved to just stick with that. The slogan for Dale City was "The Friendliest Little City" and it has always seemed to me a fence is to keep people out. We took copies of original covenants to the zoning and property code administrators to try to prevent any fences in front yards. The legal reality was an individual homeowner could sue a neighbor for building a fence in the front yard, but only if that neighbor was willing to pay for the lawyers and court costs. Fences have been popping up in Dale City, Manassas and Woodbridge for many years...it's too bad someone didn't draw attention to the problem sooner. Let me clarify, though: This is not a new ordinance. The ordinance for fences as an accessory use has been on the books for a long time. It has been a legal requirement for a fence to be permitted for a long time. The only changes that were made are the ones you see underlined in the accompanying document. Thank you for your question.
bill cummings February 16, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Ms.Moser,can you provide a copy of the oringinal covenant online?Can't find it on P WC.It used to be there though.
Connie Moser February 16, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Bill, I'll be gone all day today and half of tomorrow, Will try to scan those covenants to a Word doc. and post here.
Connie Moser February 17, 2012 at 07:10 PM
I've uploaded a set of the original covenants for your perusal. Thanks to my friend, Linda Gosnell, for providing us with a pdf.
bill cummings February 22, 2012 at 10:24 AM
thanks for your effort,and Ms.Gosnell's also.But what I was looking for was originals for section 1.Also does the DCCAS have a website?
Connie Moser February 22, 2012 at 10:59 AM
Bill, I don't know anyone with original covenants from section 1. Maybe a Patch reader will see this? The DCCA does have a website: https://sites.google.com/site/dccawebsite/Home
Nonya August 08, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Lady you are what is wrong with the PWC and this country. Get a life and leave others to live as they choose.

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