While I was showing off my new stepping stone path to the garden, a few of you noticed my brand new, 6ft wood privacy fence. It took nearly nine months from the initial date I submitted the permit for my fence to be approved and completed, but by golly — it happened. Ready to hear the story of our new fence? Warning: it is epic!
If you recall back to last November, I had grown frustrated with my immediate neighbor’s removal of all of the foliage that used to create a nice private yard along the 40 foot span of chain link fence on one side of our lot. Replacing all of that leafy green with a random canoe, only added insult to injury.
Of course my neighbors were only trying to tidy up their yard, not to be malicious in any way — and I think that after they had removed all the greenery, they even felt a bit more exposed than normal. I tried to remedy the situation by planting a row of evergreen shrubs, but they did little to block the view, and after last years super cold, harsh Wisconsin winter, several of them are now looking a little worse for the wear.
After spending an entire summer feeling exposed, I wanted to make sure I regained my missing privacy before the coming summer. Unfortunately when I applied for the permit to replace my 4ft chain link fence with a 6ft wood fence, I received an email from the zoning guy with some neighborhood bylaws from 1954 stating that 6ft wood privacy fences were illegal unless I received permission from 60% of the neighbors in the subdivision — which is by my count — 140 homes. Yikes.
Not wanting to go door to door asking for signatures just to replace a 40ft span of fence and also not wanting to mail 140 letters with return paid postcards for their responses, I tried to devise a strategy to persuade the city that they should allow me to construct the fence on just this one side of my property.
I went back to those typewritten neighborhood bylaws from 1954 and read through every word carefully — and that’s when I found my potential loop hole.
The above reads:
8. FENCES. No fence shall be erected on any one of said lots which said fence shall be higher than four (4) feet from the graded surface of the ground on which each fence is situated. In no event shall any fence or wall be erected closer than thirty (30) feet to any street line nor beyond the front line of any dwelling. No fences constructed of wire or metal shall be erected on any lot.
Bingo. Since we currently had a chain link fence that ran all the way around our property — which could be described as a wire or metal fence therefore an ‘illegal fence’ by these bylaws — then the previous owners who put up the fence must have gotten permission to do so, right? And assuming that they did get permission for an ‘illegal fence’ on this property from the neighborhood, shouldn’t I be able to swap one type of illegal fence for another one, assuming that the neighbors that are on the other side of it don’t have any issues with the change? The argument was worth a shot, so I wrote a letter to the city explaining my reasoning for wanting the fence, my thought process about making the swap and the hopes that I wouldn’t have to collect signatures on a matter that had already been decided 20 years ago.
I mailed the letter, along with signed permission from my neighbors and waited. And waited. And waited.
Then I emailed the letter directly to the zoning guy at the city that made these decisions and called his office to make sure he got the letter and email. Turns out, the office had received both the letter and email, but the zoning guy was out on an extended vacation and wouldn’t be back in the office for three weeks. It was now December, so I wasn’t too worried about not hearing back for this length of time, since it would be months before a fence could be installed.
The winter went on and still I heard nothing. Mid February I tried contacting the city zoning office again. It turns out that Mr. zoning guy had gone on yet another leave for several weeks — I was told because of a death in the family. So I waited and waited some more.
Finally in March, a response! I received a phone call from the zoning guy asking about my letter. We discussed the situation at length and he agreed that if the fence was indeed mine, and it had been correctly applied for, that I could replace the section in question with a 6ft wood privacy fence, pending approval from my immediate neighbors on both sides. He just had to check the city’s files and would get back to me in a week or so. “Great!” I thought.
When I didn’t hear back after a week, I called again. Turns out he was deep in the records in the basement and had verified that the section of fence in question was ours, but had not yet finished going through the minutes from the now-disbanded neighborhood council meeting from 1994 when the fence was installed.
Another week passed and still no word. I called the office again and drat — he had left once more for a two week out of office stint. By now it was almost April and I desperately wanted the fence permit in hand so I could call the fence company I got the quote from and tell them to schedule my job. But still nothing. Finally my calls and emails were returned. Mr. zoning guy said he mailed my fence permit — the one he said he would send to my residence — to the fence company directly several weeks ago. WHAT?
Next it was time to call the fence company guy, verify they received the permit and get them to come ASAP and put up my fence. Yes — they did get my permit — but they had been so busy with jobs that they hadn’t followed up with me yet. Great. Did I miss my window to get in their spring work schedule? Mr. Fence guy said he could squeeze our fence into his schedule in early June — but that was precisely when Jim and I were supposed to be out of town at The Hukilau tiki festival in Florida. There was no way I was going to have this fence going up while I wasn’t home. What if they had questions, ran into problems, or our dog sitters forgot the fence line was under construction and Leo got out? So Mr. Fence guy promised that he would start immediately after we returned from our vacation, definitely finishing the fence before our annual Christmas in July celebration.
The day after we returned from Florida, I started calling Mr. Fence. Was he coming Friday? Monday? I left message after message and received no response. Ack! Then after the 15th call, Mr. Fence answered. He was so backed up with projects that had been delayed by the rainier than normal spring, and was running behind. I reminded him that he promised to have my fence done before July 1st and he promised to come ASAP to get the project started.
Mr. Fence and team showed up on the following Wednesday to start the job. I reminded him that I needed the fence line to be down for a minimal amount of time since I have a dog that is used to having run of the yard and has issues pooping on a leash. (Yes, yes he does.) Mr. Fence took down the section of old chain link, dug new fence post holes and set the new posts in concrete. Things were progressing quickly for once! Horray!
Then what he said as he was cleaning up for the day hit me like a ton of bricks: the truck with his supply of lumber for all of his fence projects wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and he might be able to return the following Monday to finish the fence. I wasn’t thrilled with having to take Leo out on a leash in his own back yard for at least 6 days, but if he could get it done on Monday, the sacrifice would be worth the newly gained privacy, right?
Monday came and went and still no Mr. Fence. He finally returned my calls, explaining that the lumber truck was still not there and so he had no lumber to finish my fence. Don’t they make and sell lumber somewhere locally? Not like this good quality lumber, Mr. Fence assured me. The week came and went and still no word from Mr. Fence. With my family coming in a mere day and a constipated dog who had not had a regular pooping schedule for nearly two weeks, I finally got word that the lumber had arrived an my fence would be finished — just in time before the 4th of July festivities. Phew!
After nearly nine long months of waiting, phone calls, aggravation, and persistence, our fence was finally installed and finished!
The fence is made of cedar and can be allowed to weather to a silvery grey, or stained or sealed in any desired color. For now, we are leaving it to weather a bit before we make any decisions.
I had Mr. Fence build me a horizontal style fence because I feel that it goes better with the long, low look of our 1962 ranch home. We’ve gotten many compliments from neighbors, friends and family on the decision to make a horizontal fence instead of a traditional vertical style.
Since I’m not a fan of the look of chain link, I found this willow reed at Menards to attach to the chain link in the two spots where it is visible from the street. Again, neighbors have been loving this inexpensive addition. The willow reed doesn’t offer much privacy, but just a little bit was all we needed in these spots.
Of course the best part was the privacy we’ve enjoyed for the bulk of the summer. It is much easier to relax when you don’t feel as if you are being watched. Leo could care less about the fence, but he is glad to have free run of the yard again — because pooping on a leash is just not becoming of a regal dog like himself.
The fence saga was a long one, but in the end we are so glad we went to the trouble. There’s just nothing else like your own, private back yard oasis in the summer.