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Court challenge and definitions

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
I'm looking for other communities defnition of front yards, required front yards, etc.

The reason is a ticket we have issued a property and the resulting challenge in court. Here's the story:

The property owner has a corner property. His house fronts on Oak Ave. He has erected a fence along his corner side yard property line along Knoxville Avenue. Neighboring homes front on Oak and Knoxville. So, by our definitions, he corner side yard is considered a front yard because homes front on Knoxville.

Front yard fences need permits and have certain requirements in terms of height, openness, etc. He did not get a permit and the fence is erected out of compliance. His lawyer is challenging our definition of Front Yard.

Front Yard: The minimum horizontal distance between the property line and any buildnigs, or any projection thereof and extending for the full width of the lot. This could be any yard! side, corner side, rear, etc.

Corner Side Yard: he minimum yard required on corner lots between any building and the property line adjacent to the street upon which the principal building does not front. This yard is only observed when other lots with frontage on the side street in the same block do not or do not have the ability to have a principal building front this street. If this is the case, policy has been this yard is a front yard although it's not clearly defined by the definition.

The definitions of corner side yard, side yard, and rear help through process of elimination define the front yard area, but the definition alone does not specify what specifically a front yard is.

I could reference webster's and use that definition to illustrate the case. But since we already define front yard, I don't know how well this will hold up.

The judge isn't a fan of zoning, especially cases relativley minor zoning cases like this. He wants to rule in favor of the resident, but how do I convince him otherwise?

I wanted to lean on the face that we require corner side yard fences to be 10 feet off the property line and if they are to be closer, they need to follow the administrative approval process for front yard fences. But again.. what is a front yard?
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
13,887
Points
56
does your code define "building front"?

If it does, then that should allow you to determine which yard is definitely the front yard, dictated by the front of the house. Then the corner side yard would just the corner side yard.


If this doesn't work, then don't even talk about defining front yard, because the fence is simply illegal because of no permit.

Oh.....if you get the chance dope slap the lawyer, too. ;-)
 

Richmond Jake

You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!
Messages
18,313
Points
44
Does your code also define "front property line?" I worked for a jurisdication in which we had to read this definition in conjunction with "front yard" to determine the front yard. A little clumsy but it worked.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
mendelman said:
does your code define "building front"?

If it does, then that should allow you to determine which yard is definitely the front yard, dictated by the front of the house. Then the corner side yard would just the corner side yard.


If this doesn't work, then don't even talk about defining front yard, because the fence is simply illegal because of no permit.

Oh.....if you get the chance dope slap the lawyer, too. ;-)
Unfortunately for us, the judge is specifically requesting our interpretation of a front yard. I'm trying hard to avoid the front yard argument, but our defintions somewhat revolve around this intangible front yard.
 

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,482
Points
41
Our code defines front yard for a corner lot as the narrowest frontage onto a public right-of-way, regardless of how the structure may be situated on the lot (e.g., door facing the widest r-o-w; address on the widest r-o-w).

IMO, your definition is not optimal.
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,443
Points
34
You can also use the intent of the ordinance. The intent of limiting fences on corner lots is because of traffic visiability around the corner. Make sure this point is recorded so when there is an accident the victims know who to sue. Perhaps the property owner would have second thought when it becomes a liability issue.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
giff57 said:
You can also use the intent of the ordinance. The intent of limiting fences on corner lots is because of traffic visiability around the corner. Make sure this point is recorded so when there is an accident the victims know who to sue. Perhaps the property owner would have second thought when it becomes a liability issue.
I appreciate the input from all. Giff the problem here that the fence does not go into the front yard area, only in the side yard that is along a street. Sight triangles and visibility concerns are not that great. However, the larger concern is that a fence like this would create the situation of a 6-ft fence in the front yard for an adjacent house.
 
Messages
12
Points
1
Here is what we have....

Yard or Setback means an open space on the same zoning lot with a principal building or group of buildings, which is unoccupied and unobstructed from its lowest level upward, except as otherwise permitted in this chapter, and which extends along a lot line and at right angles thereto to a depth or width specified in the yard regulations for the district in which the zoning lot is located.

Yard or setback, front means the yard extending along the full length of the front lot line between the side lot lines.

I'm in the midst of trying to get definitions approved for lot line.

lot lines means the lines bounding a lot as defined herin.

Lot Line, Front means the boundary between a lot and the street right-of-way on which it fronts. On a corner lot, the stortest line adjacent to a street right -of-way shall be the front line.

In all the zoning districts in the Ordinance for Yards it reads:

Corner lots. On corner lots, where the side yards adjoin a street, the side yards shall be determined in the same manner as the front yards.
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,443
Points
34
boiker said:
I appreciate the input from all. Giff the problem here that the fence does not go into the front yard area, only in the side yard that is along a street. Sight triangles and visibility concerns are not that great. However, the larger concern is that a fence like this would create the situation of a 6-ft fence in the front yard for an adjacent house.

Oh, I see. I misunderstood the problem. Carry on.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
The "Corner Side Yard" definition is perhaps the key. We have something similar in our code, where a corner side yard can be 1/2 the required front yard--so long as there are no structures or curb cuts along that block face. Do you perhaps have something similar? Or did you at one time?
 

Whose Yur Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
11,393
Points
40
We would consider the property having two front yards and apply the front yard standards to both. The fence would have to meet the FY requirement on both sides. The other, more important issue, is that it is a violation and the violation needs to be resolved. The lawyer is partially diverting you away from the fact that his client messed up.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
Whose Yur Planner said:
We would consider the property having two front yards and apply the front yard standards to both. The fence would have to meet the FY requirement on both sides. The other, more important issue, is that it is a violation and the violation needs to be resolved. The lawyer is partially diverting you away from the fact that his client messed up.
I completly realize that, unfortunately, we can't define this as a front yard because our definition lacks clarity. Any yard can be a front yard and the definition of corner side yard doesn't specifiy that the corner side yard is treated as a front yard in the instance noted above.

The judge has also directed us for clarification on how we define the FY which doesn't leave us a lot of room to ignore that fact.

Now, since we have this undefined corner yard that may not be a corner yard or a front yard we have ambiguous yard.

Mike, what I noted above is all we have for defining a front or corner yard.

I think my out is this.. drop the ticket because the ticket was issued in reference to the incorrect section. We can re-address the problem with the owner under the correct section and require the permit that way OR in a round-a-bout way I can define front yard through process of elimination. Although, I fear this won't hold help as well.
 

Whose Yur Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
11,393
Points
40
boiker said:
I completly realize that, unfortunately, we can't define this as a front yard because our definition lacks clarity. Any yard can be a front yard and the definition of corner side yard doesn't specifiy that the corner side yard is treated as a front yard in the instance noted above.

The judge has also directed us for clarification on how we define the FY which doesn't leave us a lot of room to ignore that fact.

Now, since we have this undefined corner yard that may not be a corner yard or a front yard we have ambiguous yard.

Mike, what I noted above is all we have for defining a front or corner yard.

I think my out is this.. drop the ticket because the ticket was issued in reference to the incorrect section. We can re-address the problem with the owner under the correct section and require the permit that way OR in a round-a-bout way I can define front yard through process of elimination. Although, I fear this won't hold help as well.
Is there any chance that this a platted lot? If so, the plat often will define the front building line(s). If the plat shows two front building lines because it is a corner lot, you could hang your hat on that. The second option is: would you allow an accessory building to be put there? Most ordinances do not allow an accessory building to be put in the front yard. It sounds like the problem is a hostile judge who is raising the bar on you.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
Whose Yur Planner said:
Is there any chance that this a platted lot? If so, the plat often will define the front building line(s). If the plat shows two front building lines because it is a corner lot, you could hang your hat on that.
Most likely not. The area was platted over 80 years ago and the setback lines were much different then than they are now and not usually platted.

The second option is: would you allow an accessory building to be put there? Most ordinances do not allow an accessory building to be put in the front yard.
You are correct. We would never permit a structure to be in this area. It's not our policy, it's not our interpretation. But, the code doesn't say this is a front yard. Because of our definition's wording, there is no term for this yard. Also, the intent of the ordinance is only as good as the explictly written intent. There is no intent written for setbacks or yards. We have a purpose of the zoning ordinance defined regaridng aesthetics,but that is subjective. One purpose is to establish setbacks, but it doesn't outline the goals or intent of setbacks.

It sounds like the problem is a hostile judge who is raising the bar on you.
You got that right. The judges here are boosters of private property rights and make the city work for a court victory.
 

Whose Yur Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
11,393
Points
40
boiker said:
Most likely not. The area was platted over 80 years ago and the setback lines were much different then than they are now and not usually platted.


You are correct. We would never permit a structure to be in this area. It's not our policy, it's not our interpretation. But, the code doesn't say this is a front yard. Because of our definition's wording, there is no term for this yard. Also, the intent of the ordinance is only as good as the explictly written intent. There is no intent written for setbacks or yards. We have a purpose of the zoning ordinance defined regaridng aesthetics,but that is subjective. One purpose is to establish setbacks, but it doesn't outline the goals or intent of setbacks.


You got that right. The judges here are boosters of private property rights and make the city work for a court victory.
This is what happens when lawyers and judges wade into the incredibly complex world of P&Z. Good luck, sounds like you are going to need it.
 
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