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Hedge limits closer to approval

Mary A. Castillo

In a surprise to planning commissioners and some residents, the

City Council Tuesday voted 4-0 to approve a second reading of an

ordinance limiting the height of hedges.

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Councilman Paul Freeman was absent from the meeting.

At its Sept. 11 meeting, the commission voted unanimously to

recommend that the city not adopt a modified second reading of a

zoning ordinance amendment that limits the height of hedges to that

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of fences. But the council decided not to follow the advice of the

commission.

The issue will come before the council in the future. Council

members can then hear from the public and make a final vote.

“Functionally, [hedges] very much have the same benefit and

potential circumstances of adverse conditions,” said Kyle Butterwick,

director of community development with the city. "[Staff] thinks they

should be treated the same.”

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Proponents of the amendment argued that the process of this

amendment becoming law was “squabbling.” However, they agreed with

city staff to a point on what distinguishes a fence from a hedge.

“The difference between a fence and a hedge is that a hedge keeps

growing,” said Laguna Beach resident Ganka Brown. “It could grow to

20 feet and block views down the road.”

Hedges, Brown contended, were also likened to spite fences.

Resident Dave Connell took the podium to argue for view

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preservation.

“In a city where views are so important to the public, property

owners and the city tax base, it is even more important that we

recognize vegetation adjacent to property lines are indeed fences,”

he said.

He charged that some residents use vegetation to get around fence

regulations.

The ordinance reviewed by the council stipulated that hedges will

be restricted to a height of 4 feet in the frontyard and up to 6 feet

in the side and rear yards. However, the amendment is rather

permissive in its language. If a hedge is taller than recommended,

but does not compromise a neighbor’s view or yard’s exposure to sun,

then it would be allowed to remain at its height. The city would

enforce the amendment only when residents bring a legitimate

complaint that demonstrates the property is adversely affected by an

overgrown or otherwise unruly hedge.

This method of enforcement concerned council members.

“I too feel concerned that we would be institutionalizing

selective enforcement,” Mayor Wayne Baglin said.

“A complaint would have to come from someone who is adversely

affected,” Councilman Steve Dicterow said. He proposed that

complaints be brought to administration at City Hall’s front counter.

If hedge owners wanted to appeal the administrative decision it would

go to Design Review, and if the parties appealed that decision the

matter would progress to the City Council.

“It would be very much like a short-term lodging administrative

usage permit,” Butterwick said. “Both parties sit down with me in

attempt to resolve the complaint.”

Not many from the public spoke at the meeting on the issue, likely

a result of the Planning Commission’s previous vote not to support

the ordinance.

“As I always say, the Planning Commission proposes and the City

Council disposes,” Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson said. “The vote

came as a complete surprise to me.”

The Planning Commission based its decision on the vague language

defining a hedge and preserving a resident’s right to privacy. Based

on the extensive testimony brought before the commission, Johnson

said the amendment simply wasn’t right for Laguna.

“They equated unruly hedges to spite fences,” she said of the

council’s vote. “I don’t know how they’re going to enforce it.”

A modified amendment will go before the council at a future date.

After the vote, Baglin addressed the concerns brought up during

public comment.

“I think this council has been on top of this,” he said. “We want

to come up with something equitable, manageable and legally

enforceable. Proving intent is not easy to do.”

* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.

She covers education, public safety and City Hall.


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