Privacy has become a priority among Longboaters who have allowed hedges to grow high into the air to create buffers between their houses. Hedges have also been used to create buffers to block Gulf of Mexico Drive from sight. But the town’s decision not to enforce its hedge-height ordinance has created some negative effects.
From the early 1970s, when homes on the Key were mostly one-story, until 2008, the town had an ordinance on its books that regulated the height of hedges in both side and rear yards to 6 feet. The ordinance has not been actively enforced, though, because the town had not received any hedge complaints, even though both houses and privacy hedges have grown bigger and more popular Key-wide.
But in 2008, when resident Morris Kertzer complained about a neighbor’s tall bamboo encroaching on his property, questions arose about whether bamboo was considered a grass or a hedge. The complaint led to a change in the town’s ordinance that abolished height restrictions in side and rear yards.
The problem seemed solved until last spring when first floor Marina Bay residents complained that a side-yard hedge on a Harbour Court neighbor’s property that sits between their neighborhood and Marina Bay had obliterated their waterfront views. The hedge, which the neighbor refuses to cut, is more than 25 feet tall and is expected to block second floor Marina Bay views within a year.
The complaint left Longboat Key planning staff scrambling to come up with a way to fix what Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer called “an unintended consequence” of the revised ordinance.
The ordinance has always mandated that waterfront yards along the bay, canals and bayous keep hedges no higher than 3 feet to preserve views.
But, the problem with Marina Bay and a few other waterfront properties is that the two neighboring properties have different waterfront views depending on where their structures lie; thus, there are multiple side-yard hedges that have no height restrictions.
The complaint led staff to bring a proposed ordinance amendment to the Planning and Zoning Board this summer. Staff proposed a selective regulation of hedges located in side yards adjacent to waterfront yards. The change states that “where two adjacent properties both have waterfront yards, hedges located in the side yard shall not exceed 6 feet in height from a point parallel to the waterside of the more landward of the two occupied structures.”
The P&Z board, though, recommended denial of the ordinance in June, in part, because board members were concerned about restricting property rights. The denial recommendation brought the matter before the Longboat Key Town Commission at its Monday night regular meeting.
Planner Steve Schield told the commission he needed direction on where the ordinance should go, and the majority of commissioners approved the ordinance change on first reading.
“This hedge is blocking Marina Bay from seeing views of the city,” said Duncan, a Marina Bay resident whose view is not affected currently. “It affects six residents now and will affect six others in another year.”
After Meyer reported the town hasn’t received any other complaints about similar waterfront view issues, commissioners wrestled with changing the ordinance again just to address one issue.
“We are paying the price for no enforcement over many years,” said Vice Mayor David Brenner, who said he wished the parties could resolve their differences and have the hedge trimmed.
In the end, Mayor Jim Brown and commissioners Duncan, Terry Gans and Phillip Younger voted to move the ordinance forward to a second reading in November. They said it was better to change the ordinance to address certain properties rather than enforce side-yard hedges Key-wide.
“The higher the hedge, the more protection most neighbors have and the happier most neighbors are,” Meyer said. “For the rest of the town, your ordinance works pretty well.”
If the ordinance is approved on second reading next month, the hedge in question will have to be cut back to 6 feet within two years of the ordinance going into effect.
“This is about protecting waterfront views and property values,” Duncan said.