Many other homeowners in the same boat, councillor warns
Bobbi Jo Gorman lost her appeal of the bylaw notice last week, which ordered her to cut the hedges from their current 20-foot height, to 3-1/2 feet, the maximum allowed under city rules.
Gorman said when she bought her Minnow Lake home five years ago, the hedges were 35 feet, and she's been bringing them down gradually since then. She said there are houses with illegally high hedges across the city, but the bylaw is only enforced if someone complains.
The purpose of the bylaw is safety, she said, but her hedges don't block the visibility of her neighbours getting in and out of their driveways, and she's not on a corner lot.
“I think this bylaw needs to be looked at again,” she said. “It's not a safety issue.”
Her problems began in 2011, when two neighbours got into a dispute. One neighbour complained to the city's bylaw department about the height of the other neighbour's hedges, which are the same as Gorman's. So when the bylaw officer arrived, Gorman got a ticket, as well.
That was the last she heard of it until last June, when a new bylaw officer saw the open file and pursued the case. She tried to arrange a meeting with the bylaw department and her neighbours, to see if they could come to an agreement. But she was told that their job is to enforce the rules, and there was nothing they could do.
“I just wanted the city to see that they're not a safety issue for visibility for traffic flow,” she said. “They didn't want to hear any of that. They said this is the bylaw and you broke it. That's all this case was about to them … I was disappointed in that.”
She can apply to the city for a variance, which would allow her hedges to remain as they are.
“But I got to pay, I think, $820, which is very expensive and I still might not win,” Gorman said.
According to a city report on the bylaw, fences and hedges in front and corner yards must be one metre or less, so they don't block the view of other drivers and neighbours.
“Restricting the height of fences and hedgerows in the front yard increases safety for residents and the community,” the report says.
“Having an unobstructed view of the front of a house from the street will increase visibility of house numbers and reduce response time for fire, police and ambulance emergency services.
“The police also identify increased visibility to the front of a residence from the street as a method of crime prevention.”
The city acts on complaints only, the report says, of which there have been 153 about hedges and 55 about fences. Since 2010, 14 variances have been granted.
Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett, whose ward includes Gorman's home, said there is something wrong with a bylaw that is in place to ensure safety, but is applied even when safety isn't an issue.
“If a neighbour complains to the city, the bylaw department has no choice but to charge them,” Kett said. “In principle, it's not a good bylaw. If you're not obstructing someone else's view, why can't you have a high hedge?
“I'll bet you $500 I can find 1,000 examples of people in Sudbury whose hedges are greater than one metre. Maybe 2,000.”
Because of delays, Kett said Gorman had to go to court to fight the ticket three times, before losing last week.
“So she lost three days of work out of it and she was found guilty, fined $100 and ordered to cut down her hedges,” he said. “No matter how emotionally she argued her case, she still broke the bylaw, and the bylaw says one metre.”
Kett said the bylaw should change to limit the height restrictions where safety is an issue. Shorter term, he's hoping city councillors will agree to lower the cost of applying for a variance to $100 from $820. He's bringing a notice of motion to tonight's council meeting in hopes of getting support.
“I mean, $820 -- don't you think that's unfair?” Kett said. “If you're in the middle of the street and it's a straight stretch, there's no (safety) problem.”
For her part, Gorman says cutting the hedges from 20 to 3-1/2 feet would likely kill them, so she's going to appeal for a variance and hope for the best.
“I've worked very hard on my property,” she said. “But it's a lot of money, and I could still lose … And I'd lose my privacy, I lose my sound barrier -- I lose the look of the front of my house.
“It's just not fair.”