Springfield Decision on the Fence
Today’s Springfield News-Leader has an article by columnist Sarah Overstreet that highlights an ongoing battle about city codes between Springfield and an area business owner. Tom Ray put up a fence around his property after leasing the space from businessman Jim Morris, and this has caused quite an uproar. By putting up this fence on his property, mind you he apparently has turned everyone in Springfield against him. See, Ray has the unfortunate circumstance of being located in the same shopping complex as a favorite local restaurant, The Pizza House, and apparently customers don’t like to see a fence when they are eating their pizza. The article points out that customers "found it forbidding, ruining the friendly feeling they’d grown accustomed to," and notes that the parking lot is now shorted a few extra spaces because of the fence. The article also recognizes, though, that those missing sparking spaces belonged to Morris, and were not intended for the use of visitors to nearby establishments.
City officials investigated and initially found that Morris and Ray were within their legal rights to build the fence. However, after public outcry following an earlier column, city officials investigated the matter again and this time found several obscure ordinances forbidding the fence. I’d argue that these ordinances tend to trample property rights and hinder personal freedom, and it would be nice if city officials seemed more concerned about these business owners’ property rights rather than appeasing the adjacent owners who find the fence "forbidding."
After his second review, the Springfield code administrator declared the fence a public nuisance. The article summarizes one of his findings this way: "the structure is built or used in violation of the building, plumbing, electrical, fuel gas or zoning ordinances of the city."
I am struggling to understand how a fence on one’s own personal property can be declared a public nuisance. Is it because it doesn’t allow for visitors to nearby businesses to park on Morris’ property anymore? Or is it because nearby business owners don’t want to look at a fence that they think is "forbidding"? It could be mere resistance to a change in the status quo. None of these reasons, though, are viable enough to deem a fence a "public nuisance" when it does nothing but protect property. As landlord, ideally Morris should be able to do whatever he pleases with his property, as long it does not affect the safety or rights of other individuals. But city officials also rattled off several other ordinances (found in the article) that state Mr. Morris is in clear violation of city codes.
I understand that some regulations are needed to prevent total chaos (I tend to side with David Stokes and Justin Hauke on the "Village Law" debate), but something as simple as adding a fence to a piece of property should not be in the control of city officials really, they should have bigger issues to worry about. Alas, the government never ceases to amaze me. Classifying a fence on private property as a "public nuisance" is something I cannot fathom.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a public nuisance is, "something that
unreasonably interferes with the health, safety, comfort, morals, or
convenience of the community and that is treated as a criminal violation". Clearly, building a fence on your own property does need meet any of the criteria here needed to classify it as a public nuisance. The only term that the city might successfully argue is "comfort." This is an ambiguous and subjective term, though almost any action can interfere with the comfort of some individual.
Instead, the city’s rationale for its second judgment should have been "making your neighbors mad, because they don’t like your taste."