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Board takes no action on vision obstruction law
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Springfield’s planning and zoning board held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance that would restrict objects that could obstruct driver vision including fences and shrubbery.

Board member Randy Weitman said he did some research and found that the proposed ordinance is less restrictive than a similar ordinance in Savannah.

“The only difference is the proposed ordinance calls for 25 foot distance from right of way lines on corners where the City of Savannah calls for 40 feet,” Weitman said. “They do also allow for exception where sight conditions require greater or lesser setbacks as determined by the city engineer.”

Weitman said the 40-foot setback is from the intersecting right of ways at a corner 40 feet back and the triangle that it would create. The ordinance would apply to anything, shrubs, bushes, trees and fences, from two and a half to 10 feet high.

City Councilman Dennis Webb asked if the board read the ordinance, as it would apply to new construction.

“Is it going to be retroactive to anything that exists at this time, and if so how, are you going to enforce it,” he asked.

He said if someone had a brick fence, he didn’t think the city could force it to be removed without paying damages.

City Manager Brett Bennett asked if the ordinance could be worded to say that all existing structures are grandfathered in, unless the council determines a public safety hazard.

Mayor Barton Alderman said the city attorney has been asked to look at the feasibility of making something like this retroactive.

“Just from talking to him a couple of weeks ago, his initial feeling was on stationary structures a garage, a fence something like that, it would be grandfathered in,” Alderman said. “The only enforcement we would have would be on existing bushes we might be able to require them to be cut down to 30 inches.”

Webb said he used the example in council that his garage has no set back.

“It’s on the right of way because it was built in 1940,” Webb said. “The brick fence that goes back and down the alley is the same way.”

Webb said the fence and garage obstructs driver vision.

Weitman said current setbacks take care of the majority of the problems that would occur in new structures.

“I believe the case in point is over on McCall Road,” he said. “I never realized how narrow the right of way on McCall Road was — I was shocked.”

Webb said he’s not sure the ordinance that is being proposed will have any effect on the issue that prompted the ordinance. He said he didn’t see how it could since it’s not on a corner. Councilman Kenny Usher said the ordinance does deal with non-corner lots as well.

Weitman said the ordinance would reserve jurisdiction over 20 feet from the lot line, which would be sufficient distance to give clearance when exiting a property to see down the road.

Webb said if the ordinance is passed and enforced at this address it will be required to be enforced through the entire city.

“You can’t randomly enforce an ordinance,” Webb said.

He said he did not think the city would be able to enforce the ordinance if it was applied to current situations.

“People have the right to go to civil court over issues like this if they think it is endangering their safety,” Webb said.

Weitman said even for a plant he did not think the city could retroactively enforce the ordinance, but said the attorney would determine that.

The city attorney has not been consulted further concerning the ordinance, according to Alderman.

Springfield resident Jeff Cowart said there have been hedges in between his property and his neighbor’s property that he has been keeping up for 20 years.

“This year when I tried to cut them, my neighbor said point blank, ‘please don’t cut them, they’re on our property,’” he said. “After a survey, those hedges actually are split by the property line.”

Cowart said there are also azalea bushes that are approximately eight feet high and obstruct his vision as he attempts to back out onto McCall Road.

“This is not really a dispute between me and my neighbor. I’m just asking to be able to safely back out of my driveway onto McCall,” Cowart said. “Those things have grown to a height now that visibility before my vehicle enters the road is less than 200 feet.”

Cowart said at a pervious council meeting there was a statement that there had never been a complaint before.

“Well, the shrubs have never been this height before,” Cowart said. “Especially in a low profile type vehicle, it’s very hard to see.”

Greg Jarman, who also lives on McCall Road, said there has been a problem with the bushes.

“Those bushes actually obstruct my view four or five houses down,” Jarman said.

Jarman said he has previously had a problem that was handled between neighbors. He said the biggest thing is safety.

Board Chairman Travis Blankenship asked if the council would be comfortable with the board taking its time to present a better draft to the council. Alderman asked if the board could have something by the first meeting in January.

“Personally I think it’s a good ordinance, a good purpose,” Weitman said. “But I don’t know that you’re going to retroactively apply it, and how is that going to solve the situation these gentlemen are faced with right now?”

Alderman said one of the issues was that no one knew where the property line was.

“As far as I’m concerned the city needs to go out and clean to the property line,” Alderman said.

He said he didn’t know how much it would help the problem but he didn’t think it would hurt the problem.

The board could not take action on the ordinance because of a lack of a quorum.