Waco City Council members said Tuesday they want to do something about ugly fences, but requiring fence permits seems to be off the table.

Councilwoman Toni Herbert has pushed for more regulation of fences after residents in her North Waco district complained about makeshift fences cobbled together out of materials such as shipping pallets and sheet metal.

“Maybe it’s not an issue in some neighborhoods, but it is in our neighborhoods,” she said.

In a work session Tuesday, the council discussed whether property owners should have to get a permit to build a fence.

City staffers warned that would be a headache.

City Manager Larry Groth said before the city could issue a permit, it would require proof that the owners are building their fences within their property boundaries.

“The only way we know that they’re in the right place is to require a survey,” he said. “If we get into this, we don’t want to do it unless a survey is required, and surveys are expensive.”

Groth estimated a typical residential survey costs more than $1,200.

Staff members said the city could set standards for fencing without requiring a permit, though such standards would be difficult to enforce.

City Attorney Leah Hayes said the city is limited in how far it can enforce aesthetic standards without encroaching on private property rights.

Councilwoman Alice Rodriguez said she would like an ordinance banning privacy fencing in front yards.

“That’s an obstacle to law enforcement and inspections,” she said.

The staff promised to bring back to the council a menu of possible regulations on fencing, but fence permitting won’t be among them.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

*  Discussed a proposed ordinance allowing cafe tables and other furniture on downtown sidewalks, provided that business owners get a permit and bring the furniture in at night.

Planning director Bill Falco said outdoor seating encourages “street life” in cities.

The Plan Commission and Public Improvement District have recommended the ordinance. The council gave it favorable reviews Tuesday. The ordinance comes up for a vote at the June 21 council meeting.

*  Declined to modify a recent ban on outdoor sales of animals to provide exceptions for bird vendors.

A man who sells tropical birds at the Treasure City Flea Market had asked for the change, arguing that the intent of the ordinance was to control dog and cat populations, not birds.

But Councilman Randy Riggs said birds can carry diseases and that justified restricting their sale to indoor locations.

*  Awarded a $4.1 million construction contract to John W. Ervin General Contractor of Waco to remodel the Central Library on Austin Avenue, part of the 2007 bond issue.

The council also approved leasing temporary library space at 1525 Washington Avenue for about two years while the renovations are underway.

*  Passed a resolution expressing condolences to the city of Joplin, Mo., for its losses from the recent tornado, which killed 138 people.

That was the highest number of tornado deaths since 1953, when the Waco tornado killed 114 and a Flint, Mich., tornado killed 116.

Waco officials will send the resolution to their counterparts in Joplin.


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