Wellington Council OKs First Reading Of Hedge Height Changes

The Wellington Village Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a code amendment that would allow hedge heights of 6 to 10 feet based on the location, also allowing for waivers.

Planning & Development Services Director Tim Stillings said the current code allows hedges up to 6 feet in most of the suburban areas and along the major thoroughfares, and up to 8 feet on properties of one acre or more.

“The current code provides for a waiver for those heights,” he said, explaining that waivers for greater than 6 feet require approval from the village engineer and the Architectural Review Board, and anything greater than 8 feet goes through the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board.

The rules also provide exceptions for arches and other ornamentation up to 12 feet maximum for up to 25 percent of the length of a section.

Waivers are needed for thoroughfares in the Equestrian Preserve Area but are required for any fences along streets that have hedges.

Eight waivers have been approved since 2002 for heights greater than 6 feet, Stillings said, explaining that some existing hedges are deemed nonconforming after a hedge height amendment approved in 2007.

The new proposal brought through the Architectural Review Board and slightly modified by the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board would allow a maximum hedge height for zero-lot-line homes of 6 feet with 8-foot exceptions. One-acre lots or less would be allowed 9 feet with a 10-foot exception, and lots greater than one acre would be allowed 10 feet with a 12-foot exception along thoroughfares, Stillings said.

Ornamentation would also be reduced from 25 percent to 20 percent of the length of the hedge section.

Vice Mayor John Greene said he agreed with Councilman Matt Willhite’s comments at the agenda review meeting the day before that the major issue is not with hedge height but with hedge maintenance. He added that he was disturbed that the amendments were not sent through the Wellington Tree Board. “I don’t see any reason why we should change our code if they have the option of applying for a waiver that is available,” Greene said. “The waiver seems to be an easy and workable solution.”

Greene also objected to the number of different allowable hedge heights being written into the code. “We’ve got something that works, and there’s a solution,” he said.

Willhite said that there is still a disparity of allowable heights within neighborhoods and on different roads. He said that adding the different allowable hedge heights would be a headache for code enforcement.

“I think this is ludicrous to try and put more numbers and more burden on our Code Enforcement Department to go out and try to tell people what height their hedge can be, because I can tell you, if you have a 12-foot, beautifully manicured hedge, I’m not worried about it,” he said. “If you have a 6-foot hedge that you’ve let whiteflies take control of and you’ve not done anything to trim it or fertilize it or eradicate whiteflies, I have an issue with it. My issue is strictly about maintenance.”

Willhite said the maintenance issues are primarily along thoroughfares, where the hedges are most visible.

Rather than put residents through having to apply for a waiver, he favored a uniform allowable height of 10 feet, and applying for a waiver for more than 10 feet, with applicants showing how they intend to maintain it and what type of plant material they intend to use. “I think this is crazy,” Willhite said. “I think it goes beyond what we are trying to govern and control, other than a maintenance issue.”

Councilman John McGovern asked how the proposed amendments evolved, and Stillings said the council had discussed hedge heights and asked the Architectural Review Board for input.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she would support the ordinance the way it is proposed. “As far as code enforcement, I don’t think it is a problem,” she said.

She made a motion to approve the ordinance as written, but later amended it to include only 6-foot and 10-foot heights as a concession to Willhite’s comments.

During public comment, Mike Curry, an 18-year resident of Birkdale Drive, said he maintains his hedge but received a form letter from the Code Enforcement Department informing him that his hedge was in violation because it was 6 inches above the allowable height. “I’ve walked down the street and seen hedges devastated by whitefly,” Curry said.

He added that the village once maintained the hedges but that they are now a burden on the residents. “I agree with Councilman Willhite; it’s not the size, it’s about how it’s maintained,” Curry said.

Mayor Bob Margolis said the hedge height issue has been going on for many years and was part of a recent planning workshop where council members recommended that the advisory boards provide input.

Greene said he thought that going from 6 to 10 feet was too big a change and asked Gerwig if she would amend her motion to allow an 8-foot height village-wide.

Gerwig said she was happy with the ordinance the way it was written and had proposed the 6-foot and 10-foot heights as a compromise to Willhite.

Margolis called the question, and it carried 4-1 with Greene opposed.