Kalama City Council approves updated, clearer fence code


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Aug 20, 2023

Kalama City Council approves updated, clearer fence code

An American flag flies above Kalama Public Library and City Council chambers.

An American flag flies above Kalama Public Library and City Council chambers.

KALAMA — Residents planning to build a fence will have a clearer set of rules to follow after the Kalama City Council on Thursday approved updated code proposed by the Planning Commission.

On May 12, crews moved the 140-foot Lelooska totem pole into the Port of Kalama's Mountain Timber Market, currently under construction. The pole was taken down in 2018 because of safety concerns, and carver Chief Lelooska's family restored it earlier this year. (Photos contributed)

The existing fence code was vague as to what was allowed and where, used inconsistent terminology and didn't reflect different lot sizes or configurations, said Todd Johnson, city planner, Thursday.

Previously, the code limited fence height along the front lot line to 3 feet and allowed 6 feet along the rear and side yards. The language made it seem a 6-foot chain-link fence could be allowed across the front yard, which was unintentional, Johnson said.

The Planning Commission recommendations allow taller fences at the front of the property for larger lots.

Most Kalama lots are less than 22,500 square feet and can have fences up to 6 feet in the backyard and side yards up to the front set back, the new code states. The front fence can be up to 3 feet tall.

The commission did not include requirements on fencing materials, deciding it was more important to focus on visibility, Johnson said.

After discussion, the council agreed on an amendment to address concerns about the 3-foot height limit for front yards.

Councilmember Scott Moon said 3 feet is too short and poses safety risks because some dogs could jump over it or kids could reach over it. He suggested raising the maximum height to 4 feet.

The Planning Commission did not discuss the 3-foot limit at length, but left it in from the previous code, Johnson said.

Police Chief Ralph Herrera said his concerns focused on seeing through the front fence rather than the height.

Councilmember Steve Kallio said while visibility matters, his stance is same as when he proposed the Planning Commission look into the requirements in January — the 3 feet limit is too short.

"The choice of how you want to secure your yard should belong with the landowner," he said.

Councilmember Matthew Merz agreed with Kallio's suggestion of a 5-foot maximum height.

Public Works Director Kelly Rasmussen voiced concerns that going up to 5 feet could pose a sight-distance problem if a driver can't see around a fence when backing out of their driveway

Varying topography and vehicle height, there's not a "magic number" between 3 and 5 feet, but taller fences may cause more visibility issues, Johnson said.

City Administrator Adam Smee spoke against making front fence height a staff "judgement call" as part of the permit application because decisions could be inconsistent and put staff in a bad position.

Smee proposed limiting the front height to 3 or 4 feet and allowing landowners who want a taller fence to build it using non-sight-obscuring material.

Kallio said that would still limit residents who want the fence for privacy, but he didn't want to hold up a decision over an arbitrary number.

"Finding something that's going to satisfy everything is going to be hard, and I understand that," he said. "At the end of the day, I’d like to see this favor property owners, allow them to make decisions of what they consider right for their yard and circumstances."

The council approved the code with an amendment allowing non-sight-obscuring fences up to 5 feet tall within front yard setbacks.

The updated code applies to new fences within residential zones. City residents must apply for a fence permit, which costs $100.

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Kalama does not have a dedicated funding stream for parks.