February 15, 2013
Driving up Cheyenne Road, the tall, white fence surrounding the perimeter of a little century-old bungalow gives the place the look of a compound, complete with its security gates front and back and white shutters across the front windows.
The white fence is more like a red flag, actually, signalling trouble in the southwest neighborhood bordering Ivywild and the Broadmoor neighborhoods, where old homes sit on long narrow lots amid mature trees.
Big trouble has been percolating around the big white fence and it has involved angry confrontations, calls to police, code enforcement officers, restraining orders, trips to court and, inevitably, attorneys.
The fence will again be the center of attention Thursday before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission as its owner, Michele LaPierre, appeals a city decision that it must be lowered — it is eight feet tall — or moved back from property lines.
LaPierre says she built the fence not long after buying the home in 2007 to replace a dilapidated fence and to shield her home from what she called “stifling” neighbors who made her uncomfortable by looking into her home.
And she insists it is only six feet tall, as allowed by city code.
“It’s a six-foot fence with a two-foot lattice on top,” LaPierre said repeatedly.
Her attorney wrote a lengthy and detailed explanation why the fence deserves a variance from city codes: the old fence was a dilapidated eyesore; she wants to be a foster parent and needs a fence; Cheyenne Road is dangerously busy. And she argues there are plenty of fences in the neighborhood that violate code.
City planner Erin McCauley was more succinct in rejecting the variance.
“Our codes say anything over six feet tall . . . must meet setback requirements,” McCauley said.
That means the fence must sit 25 feet from the street and five feet from the property lines on each side and in back.
LaPierre said the fence ought to stay because it improves neighbors’ property values.
“We’re so surprised there is no compassion from the city,” she said. “We’d hate to take the fence down.”
McCauley is puzzled LaPierre is even appealing, saying it was her understanding she had moved back to California and was selling the house.
When I spoke to LaPierre, she said she was, indeed, living in the Bay Area. But she said emphatically she is not selling her home.
“Do you see a for sale sign in my yard?” she asked angrily.
Honestly, the huge fence makes it impossible to see her yard.
Then she said she may be forced to sell if the city insists on making her lower her fence.
“We don’t know we’re welcome there,” she said. “We’ll just completely move out of the state and sell everything we own. We’re pretty upset. Pretty devastated by this process. They are not sympathetic.”
I called some neighbors to try to figure out what is going on.
That’s when I learned of the ugly confrontations, police and all.
Next-door neighbor Rolf Miller described five years of turmoil, which he attributed to a dispute over a hedge of 15-foot-tall lilacs that ran down their shared property line.
Miller said he maintained the hedge for years and was surprised when LaPierre mentioned she wanted a fence.
“She wanted to put up a fence with vines on it and wanted to cut down this beautiful lilac hedge I’d been taking care of for years,” he said. “I came home one day and the hedge was gone.”
Then the fence went up, constructed two feet over the property line in his yard, Miller said.
“We made her get a survey and it ticked her off,” he said. “She had to pay to move the fence.”
Miller said the relationship deteriorated when she hung “No Trespassing” signs along the fence, facing the windows in his home.
Miller said he and his wife had to call police when she began confronting and screaming at them. Finally, last fall, he sought a restraining order at the suggestion of police.
“We went to court-ordered mediation,” Miller said. “The judge made her take down the ‘No Trespassing’ signs. He said she couldn’t talk about us anymore or harass us. And as part of the agreement, she agreed to move.”
LaPierre disputed Miller’s account of the disagreements. She blamed him and said he’d violated their mediated agreement not to say disparaging things about each other.
I tried to ask her about the five-point contract filed with the court showing signatures of the Millers, LaPierre and her attorney on Nov. 30, 2012.
I asked her about paragraph two, which states LaPierre was moving as “a condition of this agreement.” It set a deadline of De. 20, 2012.
“He filed a restraining order and we were able to stop it,” LaPierre said, repeatedly interrupting me as I tried to ask her about the dispute.
“He’s the terror of the neighborhood,” LaPierre said of Miller. “He’s wicked. If we’d known how he was, we’d never have invested in that house. My neighbors love me.”
In fact, three neighbors wrote the city to cite adverse impacts due to the fence. And Ken Lewis, code enforcement administrator, said his office received complaints from other neighbors besides the Millers. Neighbors complained that it blocked their views when backing onto the busy road, was dangerous for pedestrians and was too tall.
The whole thing reminds me of the beautiful red brick wall Holger and Sally Christiansen built around their home on North Cascade Avenue in the Old North End Neighborhood in 2007.
The wall was too tall and sat too close to property lines in violation of city codes.
The city ordered it moved or lowered. There were hearings, lawsuits, a three-day trial.
Three years later, after tens of thousands of dollars were spent and gallons of stomach acid generated, guess what? The couple lost and the wall was lowered. Brick by brick.
It will be interesting to see how this fence dispute is resolved.