“Grandfathered” doesn’t mean Mebane residents can replace an otherwise prohibited fence

Mebane's city council ovrerruled its planning department to allow welded wire fences in a frame in backyards and side yards, while prohibiting altogether other forms of welded wire fences deemed too rural (below right).

When cities talk about residents being “grandfathered in” when certain ordinance changes are made, it turns out that doesn’t mean that the homeowner is home-free on whatever issue he thought was grandfathered – at least not in Mebane.

During a discussion earlier this month, the city council considered and ultimately adopted a lengthy and complex revision of the city’s unified development ordinance.

Buried amongst much jargon and technical issues, however, were two that might affect homeowners sooner than they think.

The city council adopted several changes regarding fences and metal storage buildings, both of which were initially described as “grandfathering” in existing homeowners.

However, upon further explanation, “grandfathered” allows a resident to keep a fence, for instance, that’s no longer allowed – for instance, the new ordinance prohibits chain-link fences in a front yard. He can “repair” the fence, if, for instance, a tree falls across it or a car hits it (two examples cited during the council’s discussion), damaging a portion of the fence.

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While the two residents at these homes on Supper Club Road would be grandfathered, other Mebane residents would be prohibited from installing chain link fences in their front yards, based on action taken by the city council earlier this month. However, even those grandfathered would not be able to replace their fences in front yards; they could repair, but not replace them, according to the city council discussion.

However, the “non-conforming use,” in the parlance of the ordinance, only extends through the life of the existing fence and/or if it is repaired.

It may not necessarily, however, be fully replaced, city officials described.

The same is true in another category in which the city largely legalized a widespread violation in the city. The current ordinance has prohibited metal storage buildings throughout the city – even though dozens of examples can readily be spotted driving through various neighborhoods.

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These kinds metal buildings, in side yards or backyards, are easily seen throughout Mebane, even though they had ostensibly been prohibited by the city’s ordinances. Now, the council is allowing them in most areas of the city, except in historic districts.  In those areas they’ll be “grandfathered,” and allowed to stay, until a replacement is sought; then the homeowner will have to comply with the city’s new rules that prohibit them in historic districts of Mebane.

The planning director had originally recommended loosening the standard to allow metal storage buildings on larger lots.

But the city council ultimately adopted an even wider exemption, allowing metal storage buildings in all areas of the city except its historic districts in and around downtown.

While homeowners in historic areas are “grandfathered” (i.e., allowed to keep their current metal storage building) if they already have one, they would not likely be granted permission to replace one with another metal building, according to the discussion at the city council meeting.

The city also loosened the prohibition proposed by the planning director on so-called “welded wire” fences. The planning board had agreed to ban them altogether, but the council relented a bit.Instead, the city council opted to allow welded wire fences that are framed in backyards and side yards, but they are still prohibited (along with chain-link fences) in front yards.

This type of framed welded wire fence is now prohibited in front yards throughout Mebane – although this one on South Fifth Street would be “grandfathered.” However, no new fences can be erected anywhere in the city in front yards, although they will be allowed in backyards and side yards, based on city council action.

Additionally non-framed welded fences, which were deemed to look too rural, are banned altogether.

All of the changes were adopted unanimously, 5-0.