Evanston’s Plan Commission tonight is scheduled to consider changes that would ease restrictions on fences in street-facing side yards while imposing the city’s first limits on so-called invisible fences used to restrain pets.

For many years the city has required a 15-foot setback for fences in side yards that face a street. But given the generally narrow widths of Evanston yards, that’s created problems for many owners of corner lots — creating a fence line that often nearly splits a back yard in half, as shown on the diagram above that’s included the packet for tonight’s meeting.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer says 31 applications for variations in the street-side-yard fence rules have been requested over the past two years — to provide more privacy for property owners in their back yards — and all of them have been granted, some contingent on minor modifications.

Under the proposal before the Plan Commission tonight, the required side-yard setback would be reduced to two feet, and landscaping would be required on the street side of the fence. In addition the new rules would impose a four foot height limit and a 70 percent opacity limit for fences within an eight-foot sight-line-triangle of driveways and property lines. Except for those areas, the fence could be up to six-feet high and completely opaque.

Muenzer says that of a half-dozen other nearby communities checked only Skokie currently has street-side-yard fence restrictions that are nearly as severe as Evanston’s current rules.

The idea or regulating invisible fences was first raised last November by Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, who said he was aware of several instances in his ward where the fences failed to stop a dog from leaving its property and attacking another animal being walked on the adjoining public sidewalk.

The restrictions to be discussed by the Plan Commission tonight would require that such fences be set back a minimum of six feet from property lines abutting public rights of way or streets.

That, a staff memo says would “help distance dogs walking on the sidewalk from those being restrained by the invisible barrier” and “allow time for pet owners or dog walkers to rein in their pets before an incident could occur.”

The memo says most nearby communities checked don’t regulate invisible fences but the staff did find setback restrictions and signage requirements in Elkhart, Ind., and Hampshire, Ill.

The Evanston proposal would not require signs giving notice that the invisible fence was present.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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