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Fence issue continues in Afton

Afton City Council is facing a prickly situation in regards to fences.

The council held a discussion during its July 15 meeting related to concerns about a barbed wire fence located in a residential neighborhood.

Last month, several Afton residents expressed concerns over a barbed wire fence that their neighbor Wingwah Yeung had erected the barbed wire fence around the entirety of her property, located at 4099 Penfield Court, as a way to keep deer and other animals away from her garden.

City Administrator Ron Moorse said he estimates the fence include roughly 300 feet of barbed wire.

The residents had issues with the fence, which stands six-feet tall, because not only is it an eyesore, but it also poses danger to children and domestic pets who frequent the neighborhood.

City Council continued the meeting pending an opinion from the City Attorney Fritz Knaak.

In a memo to the council, Knaak lays out that in Minnesota state statute the city of Afton is considered a “fence viewer,” which grants it a fair amount of authority in regards to border fences.

According to state statute and Knaak’s memo: “The affected party may complain to the fence viewers. The fence viewers shall give notice to the parties and examine the fence or look into the need for a proposed fence. If they determine that an existing fence is insufficient or a new fence is necessary, they shall notify the delinquent owner or occupant in writing to that effect and order the owner or occupant to build, repair or build the fence within a reasonable time period.”

Additionally, if City Council fails to address the concerns from the affected party, it would not only forfeit a fine of $5, but it will be “liable to the injured party for all resulting damages.”

If the City Council does enforce its authority and requires that a new fence be built with appropriate material, both the occupant and the neighboring properties will share in the cost of the new fence and any costs that the city, or fence viewers, incur in the process.

“This was something that I was not aware of,” Moorse said.

However, the statute only applies to partition fences, which sit at or near the property line, and it is unclear if the barbed wire fence in question is in fact a partition fence or a garden fence, Mayor Dick Bend said.

“If there’s a way we can assist residents we want to assist them in any way we can,” he said. “But if it’s a fence around a garden that is removed from the boundary, I think we’ll have no role in resolving the issue.”

Initially, City Council had discussed directing the issue to Afton Planning Commission for review and possible development of new fence regulations related to barbed wire since some areas of the city, namely residential areas, are not deemed appropriate locations for such fences.

However, given the authority that City Council is granted in state statute, a new ordinance isn’t needed, Moorse said.

“We really don’t need more regulations,” Moorse said. “This is a potentially a unique situation, so we’re going to just focus on this specific one.”

Moorse said a letter detailing the city attorney’s opinion will be sent to both the property owner and the neighboring properties.

Additionally, a site visit will potentially be needed, Bend said, as well as review of property records.

If the fence is determined to be a partition fence, and the property owners are not able to reach a resolution, the city will be required to intervene.

“It is not clear whether removing that barbed wire would be part of the solution or not,” Moorse said. “We want to see if the neighbors want us to try and figure out a solution.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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