Stoughton woman calls for ordinance change to build fence

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STOUGHTON (WKOW) — A Stoughton ordinance faces possible revocation or revision, after a woman took her fight to build a fence to city hall.

Marsha Berigan said her yard was a selling point when it came to choosing her Stoughton home.

“When we looked at the property we said it’s the perfect place to raise four boys,” she said.

Berigan said her only concern was the property’s proximity to the neighboring farm and busy road.

“Someone could get lost in the corn,” she said. “Someone could run towards the street.”

She thought she’d find an easy solution.

“We bought this house thinking, ‘Oh we’ll just put up a fence,” Berigan said.

Then, when she started reaching out to contractors she learned Stoughton has an ordinance that makes building a fence particularly difficult on her property.

You can’t build a fence on an easement and with ATC transmission lines so close to her property, Berigan has a 30 foot easement on the west side of her home.

She said she would be willing to work around a smaller easement. Most properties only have 6-foot easements, but Berigan said with 30 feet of her yard off limits, she would be fencing more of her yard in than out.

“The kids would want to come outside the fence to play and it would completely defeat the purpose,” she said.

Berigan applied for an exception from ATC and the company approved her fence request, but city ordinances still won’t allow it.

“They were like, ‘If you want a fence, the only way to do it is change the law,'” she said.

She’s trying to do just that, starting a petition and reaching out to city council, but utility companies aren’t sure about a law change.

Jill Weiss, Stoughton Utilities director, said removing the ordinance could cause future problems to crews like hers who use those easements to respond to emergencies.

“Any obstruction, a fence, a tree, anything can actually close down our restoration and create issues for our field crews,” she said.

She said May’s outage serves as a perfect example. Her crews had to respond to properties around the city to restore power including Berigan’s. Weiss said working around fences could have significantly slowed them down.

“It’s important to consider the property rights and what someone wants to do on their individual property, but also to protect those easements so that if there is an outage, if we do have a water main break, if there is a sewage backup, we’re able to respond quickly,” she said.

Weiss said she’s open to a compromise if the city can find a fair way to allow exceptions to the rule, but opposes a complete revocation of the ordinance.

“As we move forward, we really need to consider all of our customers, all of our rate payers and the impact potentially making changes to this ordinance could have,” she said.

As for Berigan, she said without a change, she’s not sure her family has a future in Stoughton.

“We love our house. I don’t want to move but I’m afraid that we truly have to,” she said.

On June 10, Stoughton’s plan commission voted unanimously in favor of removing the ordinance. The city council will be meeting with Stoughton Utilities and Public Works on Thursday July 18 to discuss the issue.

From there they will determine if any changes to the rule will move forward for an eventual vote.

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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