BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The issue of privacy fencing for residential homes in Bridgewater will have to be heard another day because the town council voted unanimously Sept. 28 to table a proposed ordinance for the time being.
Bridgewater resident Wes Mersinger spoke spoke before the council, and said his family cannot take advantage of privacy fencing because their home rests on a small-sized lot. He also said that there is an unsightly drainage ditch in the back of his property that he would like to have fenced in.
Mersinger said he has worked with township administrator James Naples on the matter, and added that he would like to have the law changed.
“It’s really more of a cosmetic decision,” Mersinger said. “We should have more flexibility.”
The ordinance as proposed would repeal a chapter section in the town code entitled “fences,” and create a new chapter entitled “fences and retaining walls” for the consolidation and amendment of the township’s requirements related to certain privacy fences.
Naples said there are more choices available to consumers these days, in terms of cosmetics and types of fences that can be built, such as solid fences.
“This ordinance will bring it into the 21st century,” he said.
Naples said he believes neighboring townships allow solid fences, and added that township planner Scarlett Doyle is checking on that.
Councilman Howard Norgalis asked if residents can put up any type of fence.
“I don’t buy in on that,” he said, and added that oversight is needed by the town.
Norgalis said he could understand the use of a solid fence as a privacy screen for concealing something like a drainage ditch, but didn’t want to make local neighborhoods “like stockades” with “6-foot fences all over the place.”
Doyle said the township does have a fencing permit, which has been in place since 1983. Residents are not charged for fencing, but do have to ask for permission when they want to put up a fence.
However, Doyle said, residents do not necessarily inform the town when they construct fences, and the town wouldn’t necessarily know about them unless neighbors complained. She said she believes that zero applications in the past have been approved by the township for solid fences.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said he has served on Bridgewater’s zoning board in the past, and that governing body has sometimes approved applications for solid fences. He asked if the planning board has reviewed the proposed ordinance, and Doyle said no.
Doyle said the zoning board has denied applications in the past, and did not suggest changing the ordinance.
Norgalis said it sounds to him like residents are putting up fences and ignoring the township. Doyle reiterated the town’s interaction has been limited to receiving complaints, which the zoning officer then checks out, but that the officer does not check for fencing on a regular basis.
Pedroso argued that the township has defined the ordinance at the zoning board level for a decade.
“(It has) the most significant impact on the township character,” he said. “We’d love to hear from the public (about it).”
Pedroso agreed that he also doesn’t want a blockade in town, and said it could “change the character of Bridgewater forever.”
Council president Allen Kurdyla said the proposed fencing ordinance has arisen out of non-compliance, with people disregarding current regulations, and hundreds of instances not enforced. He said the ordinance would bring Bridgewater back in line with its neighbors, and could also be fine-tuned.
“The current ordinance is a problem,” said Kurdyla, who said the same thing had happened to him, with 20 feet of his own backyard being fenced in.
Pedroso said he wants to keep an open mind regarding the situation, and reiterated that he would like to have input from Bridgewater residents.
Councilman Matthew Moench said he feels the current ordinance might be too restrictive, and wondered if the proposed measure goes too far the other way. He said he wants to give discretion to the zoning board, and felt that property lot size was also an issue and that actual zones might need to be examined.
“We probably do need to look at changes,” he said.
Moench also said he recognized that there were some properties that simply might not be able to comply, and that the council does not control enforcement, not necessarily even with a potential “walling in” effect of 6-foot high fences.
Pedroso added that people might not know there is a fencing ordinance, and that there might also be a lot of resident sheds in town that violate municipal regulations because residents do them on their own.
“We have a good framework and starting point for discussion,” Moench said.