Sara Swanson

Freedom Township enacts 90-day fence moratorium around Pleasant Lake

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Freedom Township Hall

Freedom Township Hall

If you do not live on Pleasant Lake you may not be aware of the 6-foot fence controversy. It began in December of 2014 and as of Tuesday night’s Freedom Township board meeting, it looks like it may be coming to an end.

The controversy started with the construction of a non-compliant, 6-foot high, double-sided fence built on a lakefront property in December of 2014 (which was later reverse-engineered into compliance by additional construction on the house). Concern escalated until October of 2015 when neighbors paid for and initiated a zoning board of appeals hearing, the first of its kind in Freedom Township. Although more than 75 residents had submitted letters stating their opposition to the fence and to 6-foot tall, “fortress-style” fencing on lake lots, and many residents spoke against the fence at the meeting, the board found against the appeal. After this loss, the residents opposed to this type of fencing then sought to have a moratorium on all fence construction in the lake district while an amendment to the zoning ordinances could be written limiting fences to 4 feet in height and requiring that they be at least 50% see through.

Since October, more than 80 residents of the 165 Pleasant Lake residences have petitioned the Freedom Township Board asking for an ordinance in the Lake District prohibiting 6 foot fences. At the Freedom Township Board’s March meeting, the Board asked the Planning Commission to create a recommendation for a new fence ordinance. At the April meeting, Tuesday night, Larry Lindemann, chair of the planning commission, reported to the board that they tried to vote on a proposal but were unable to come up with a recommendation on which they could agree, so the board would have to wait another month.

The Freedom Township planning Commission is working to craft a recommendation for amending the Lake District ordinance to restrict fencing and possibly greenery to 4ft tall and 50% solid.

The Freedom Township planning Commission is working to craft a recommendation for amending the Lake District ordinance to restrict fencing and possibly greenery to 4ft tall and 50% solid.

While on the surface, the lack of action was not encouraging to the residents who want the new ordinance, as Lindemann further explained, the planning commission is in agreement on restricting fences to 4 feet tall and requiring them to be at least 50% see through, and the setback distances from the road and the high-water mark, but could not agree on setback distances for side yards. He went on to explain that while he knows it is going to cause a lot of work for the ordinance enforcement officer, he believes that they need to proactively include a height restriction on shrubs, bushes and hedgerows and that needs to be agreed upon as well before they can bring a recommendation to the board.

With the lack of a recommendation from the planning commission to work with, township supervisor Dale Weidmayer announced that he was leaning toward a moratorium. Board member Dan Schaible stated that he would support the moratorium but that he is a “property rights guy” and wants to hear the other side of the argument. To this end, the board voted unanimously to a 90-day fence moratorium in the Lake District with a public-input meeting to be held as soon as possible. This meeting is separate from and in addition to the public hearing that will need to occur before the board votes on changes to the ordinance based on the recommendation of the planning commission.

After the vote was held, Weidmayer asked if this makes the “lake people” happy. A cheer rose up from the audience in reply.

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