Whispering Pines’ Village Council decided this week to sideline discussion of increasing the allowed fence height in the village after an overwhelming majority of input at last month’s public hearing opposed the proposal.
Council members decided to explore the topic earlier this summer after village staff reported fielding numerous queries from residents interested in building fences in excess of the 48 inches currently allowed.
The Planning and Zoning board recommended that limit be changed to 72 inches. But only a handful of the 25 residents who spoke and emailed comments last month supported the idea.
After a brief discussion during its Wednesday meeting, the Village Council voted down the proposal 4-1 with the opposing vote from Mayor Alexa Roberts.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but everybody who has moved into the village since the ordinance was in place at four feet knew that was in place,” said Councilmember Bob Zschoche. “I’m not real sympathetic to somebody that invests their money into a community and then when they get there say, ‘Oh, I want to make a change.’”
Residents on both sides of the issue raised safety concerns: that higher fences might obstruct visibility around corner lots or shield homes from view and encourage crime; that fences are now too low to prevent young children from climbing over them and into harm’s way.
Some of the push for the village to reconsider its current ordinance came from residents in the Summerfield neighborhood, where there is little of the original vegetation to offer a buffer between houses.
Mayor Alexa Roberts said that she would support allowing higher fences in specific neighborhoods in Whispering Pines.
“There are a few places where a six foot fence would not affect the aesthetics of the village … for instance if you live in Princess Gate with nothing but woods behind you,” she said. “I’m a believer that we could potentially look at fencing zones.”
But public resistance seems less likely to dissuade the village from implementing new golf cart registration requirements, along with a mandate that residents who drive their carts on public roads obtain liability insurance.
Since the Village Council started to entertain the idea last month, Whispering Pines’ leaders have received feedback directly from people resistant to the proposal. Two of them submitted comments, which Village Clerk Linda Christopher read on Wednesday.
Those two residents were amenable to the idea of assigning registration numbers to golf carts, which would help Whispering Pines’ police follow up on reports of underage drivers. Village police have dealt with 21 separate reports of underage golf cart drivers so far this year.
Police can enforce existing state driver’s license laws, but Police Chief Jason Graham said that an ordinance gives police more appropriate enforcement options for minor violations.
“Is it really ultimately fair for that one time where they did something and we catch the 15-year-old, to potentially delay them getting their driver’s license?” Graham said.
But residents are much less enthusiastic at the prospect of taking out an insurance policy specifically to cover their golf carts.
Some golf cart owners in Whispering Pines prefer their golf carts to their cars for short trips within the village. But it’s questionable whether homeowners’ insurance covers golf carts when they’re driven on public roads.
“It’s a very gray area, let’s just put it that way,” said Graham. “A lot of our residents now are driving them as a car; They’re driving them to the parks, they’re driving them to the lakes, they’re driving them to a friend’s house on the weekends, they’re driving them to joyride and some of them may, some of them may not, have insurance.”
Zshoche suggested that village staff consult with Whispering Pines’ attorney to find out if the village could be liable for allowing residents to drive uninsured golf carts on public roads.
“If no action were taken, I could see where someone could definitely attempt to make that case in court and I think with us doing nothing it would be very easily made … especially when we have neighboring municipalities that already require it,” said Councilmember Andy Conway.
“The thought of a proposed ordinance revision is not to punish anyone or do anything detrimental or to make any hardship. I think it’s totally for the betterment of our village and for the safety of everyone, not just the people on the golf carts.”
The Village Council will revisit the proposed ordinance amendment regulating golf carts during its Sept. 24 work session, and will call a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 14.