Joseph grapples with fences that exceed height limits

<I>Photo by Elane Dickenson</I><BR>This fence, which is partly higher than the six-foot maximum set by ordinance in Joseph because of the topography of the lot, has recently been a bone of contention.

While fences are said to make good neighbors, a fence in Joseph has had the opposite effect.

A dispute between two Joseph residents - Randy Felder and Cathy Quistgard - over the height of a fence between their two properties resulted in a small claims suit being filed by Felder. It also caused the Joseph City Council to set a public hearing on the issue of fences in Joseph for April 5.

In the case heard by Judge Philip Mendiguren last week, Felder charged that Quistgard's fence - which is over the six-foot height restriction set by ordinance in Joseph - reduced his property value by $5,000. That case was dismissed, with the judge saying that Felder could re-file the case in June if the issue not resolved any other way before then.

Felder, who lives at 304 N. East St. in Joseph filed a complaint last July that the fence of Quistguard of 302 N. East St. was higher than the six feet allowed by the ordinance. He asked the city to enforce its own ordinance.

The issue was complicated by the fact that Quistgard did not receive a copy of the ordinance when she inquired at city hall before building the fence. The section concerning fences in the zoning ordinances reads, "The maximum allowable height of fences and wall is six feet for all zones, as measured from the lowest grade at the base of the wall or fence."

While all the boards in Quistgard's fence are six feet long, because of the uneven topography of the lot, the fence is higher in places than six feet from the ground in order to make the top even.

The issue has been discussed at several city council meetings, and subsequent investigation by the city uncovered the fact that 42 other fences in the city do not meet the requirements of the ordinance.

At the February Joseph council meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve reopening the zoning ordinance at a public hearing "regarding the fence issue, grand-fathering in existing nonconforming fences and establishing a means by which fences will be regulated and approved by the city."

The Felder vs. Quisgard case was further complication in some residents' eyes when mayor pro tem Shelley Curtiss and councilor Pam Latta showed up to sit on Quistgard's side of the aisle at the small claims hearing in March.

George and Jennifer Ballard, who live across East street from Felder and Quistgard, have accused Latta and Curtiss of representing the city council at the hearing without authorization.

Both Latta and Curtiss said they made it clear to the judge at the hearing that they were not representing the council.

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