Complaints about regulation of hedge heights have led the Royal Palm Beach Village Council to reconsider its existing code.
The council discussed the rules with village staff Thursday, March 15 and agreed to consider an ordinance that would raise hedge and fence height limits from 6 to 8 feet in back and side yards.
Director of Community Development Robert Hill said his staff had found more than 500 hedge height violations in the village.
“It has become evident that many people throughout the village are seeking some kind of relief from the maximum height restrictions that we have as it is related to fences and hedges,” Hill said, explaining that the current code allows a maximum height of 6 feet at the rear and sides and 4 feet in front.
Hill noted that surrounding communities, including Wellington and Greenacres, have similar regulations but have mechanisms to allow hedges to grow taller.
Hill said the violations are generally taken care of promptly when the homeowner is given a courtesy notice, but pointed out that some of the hedges are planted to conceal air conditioners or sewage lift stations and are aesthetically appealing, although they technically violate height regulations.
“We’re opening this up for review and discussion, and we’d like to know how to handle this,” HiIl said, noting that some developments have been granted variances for beautification reasons, but others have installed hedges without approval that exceed existing height limits.
Hill said that some of the ordinances up for review date back to the 1960s. He added that Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien had expressed concerns about the uniform height and expectations of residents, while Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Paul Miles had expressed concerns about high hedges reducing deputies’ ability to monitor for security.
Mayor Matty Mattioli asked how the violations had been allowed to get to the level they are, and Hill said code enforcers had been focusing on other areas, including enforcement of hurricane shutter regulations, although they had been monitoring the hedge situation since 2010.
“It was because of the frequency of people asking for variations that brought this to a head, and it’s now time to address this,” Hill said, adding that code enforcement had written 307 courtesy notices since 2010.
Of those, 97 went to violation and most of those people had resolved the situation. “Some have sought relief from the council by coming forward with their variation request,” Hill said. “We have been addressing them as we find them.”
Gaining full compliance village-wide could be a challenge, he said. “If we write courtesy notices to those 500 people, I assure you that at least half of them will go ahead and trim their hedges down to compliance,” he said, noting that others would probably come in and seek relief. “This is not a complaint-driven issue. Most of them are aesthetically pleasing. The ones that have gotten out of control and scraggly, most of them have been taken care of.”
Village Manager Ray Liggins said hedge height regulation has been a continual code enforcement issue. “Over the past few years, we have given some very visible variances to hedge height, specifically on Okeechobee Blvd. and Crestwood Blvd.,” Liggins said, explaining that many people who receive code violation notices ask why certain hedges are allowed to be taller and theirs is not.
“We get more and more of that, as there are more variances out there,” he said. “They’re starting at six feet when they trim them, and they grow from there. There are some people who come in here that have eight- or nine-foot, very well-maintained hedges. They feel offended that we would even consider writing up that particular hedge.”
Liggins said he thought that over 8 feet would be too high. “Eight feet is the height of the eaves of the single-story homes,” he said. “We feel 8 feet could be enforced with no problem whatsoever.”
Hill said he would not recommend allowing more than 4 feet in the front areas except to conceal utility structures.
Councilwoman Martha Webster said that she had asked for a review of the ordinance.
“I believe that 8 feet is not objectionable at all. I believe there are circumstances where residents would like that higher hedge. I think some of the variances [are OK], including neighbors that have a pool where a neighbor’s home is two stories,” she said. “I would like to see us look at 8 feet in back and 4 feet in front.”
Councilman Richard Valuntas also favored an 8-foot height in back. “That should hopefully eliminate any problem with people complying,” he said. “That should be strictly enforced and will give more direction to code enforcement.”
Vice Mayor Fred Pinto said he would agree to some type of amendment. Councilman Jeff Hmara favored having a fresh look at the code. “I think it’s great when we are willing to look into our code when we begin to see a large number of variances; it seems to make sense,” Hmara said. “Eight feet is pretty high up there from a maintenance point of view. Is that going to be a problem? That’s pretty hard to trim.”
Hill said he thought 8 feet would be enforceable and that most of the hedges not in compliance are between 6 and 8 feet. “I believe a compromise of going to eight feet would eliminate most of that issue,” he said.
Webster made a motion to draft an ordinance for review, which carried unanimously.