SARANAC LAKE - The village Board of Trustees, for the second time, has tabled a proposed law that would set new guidelines for fences and retaining walls in the village.
The decision came Monday night following a public hearing on a revised version of the fence law. Trustee Barbara Rice suggested the board table it, citing the recent controversy surrounding a fence the owners of Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn put up along the Lake Flower shoreline.
Critics called the 6-foot-high stockade fence an "eyesore" as it blocked part of the view of the lake along a well-traveled section of Lake Flower Avenue. Over the weekend, Gauthier's co-owner Nicole Brownell announced that they would remove the waterfront sections of the fence.
"Quite frankly, it brought up some issues I hadn't considered prior to this," Rice said during the meeting. "I think it would be prudent for us to step back, take a look again at what we've come up with and get it right the first time."
Rice told the Enterprise after the meeting that she never thought fence issues would get as contentious as they have over the past week.
The Brownells were harshly criticized, and even threatened, on Facebook for their fence, which they said was designed to protect their property and the lake from garbage, debris and road salt, and keep trespassers out.
Rice said the controversy raised questions in her mind about whether the proposed fence law should include specific provisions for waterfront areas and potential visual impacts.
"That's something I don't think we've completely addressed in the new fencing ordinance," Rice said. "We have to discuss it a little bit further and decide if there's anything we can do to avoid a situation like this in the future or make this better."
Gauthier's received a permit to build their fence last year, but village officials have said it might not meet the standards of the new fence law, which limits fences in a building's "architectural front yard" to 4 feet in height.
The new fence law, which also addresses retaining walls, is actually an amendment to the village land use code. Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans has said it resolves several issues that have been raised over the last few years with the current fence law, which Evans has described as vague and confusing.
Among other things, the amendment defines the term "fence," limits the height of fences to 4 feet in a front yard and 6 feet in a side yard or back yard, and requires fences to be of "a common type" such as split rail, picket, chain link or stockade, with the most pleasant side facing neighboring properties. Temporary garden fences are exempt from the law's requirements.
The law also defines the term "retaining wall" as a wall 3 feet in height or greater that's designed to prevent lateral displacement of soil. It says existing stone retaining walls have to be preserved to the maximum extent possible. New retaining walls would have to be constructed of natural or manufactured stone, concrete or wood.
The new law also continues a requirement in the current code that a building permit be obtained from the village before any fence or retaining wall is built.
During Monday night's public hearing, Lake Street resident Helene Nessenthaler asked if the new law would force her to rip up the existing garden fencing she has in her yard.
"As long as it's constructed already, for lack of a better word, you'd be grandfathered in," Evans said.
Nessenthaler also asked if the law would apply to plastic, orange snow fencing and if she would need a permit to put up deer fencing.
Evans said snow fencing would not be permitted under the proposed law, but he said the village could work with a homeowner to put up something temporary if there are extenuating circumstances. Deer fencing would require a permit, Evans said, and would be subject to the proposed law's height restrictions.
Moody Pond neighborhood resident Colleen Gowan said she was grateful for the maximum 6-foot height limit, describing an 8-foot stockade fence put up by her neighbor that she said blocks neighbors' views of nature. She also said the law should maintain a current requirement in the village code that new fences be set back 2 feet from a property line. That provision was removed from the proposed fence law.
"Especially if neighbors are putting up fences because they don't get along, you really don't want to be on each other's property to paint or maintain the fence," Gowan said.
If the village makes substantial revisions to the proposed law, another public hearing would have to be held before it could be approved by the board.
(This article has been corrected regarding Colleen Gowan's place of residence and what she doesn't like about her neighbor's 8-foot fence.)