Fence Law Brings Out Critics

Complaints about deer fences, such as one recently installed on Town Line Road in Wainscott, and changes to the way permit requests for them are handled, dominated discussion at an East Hampton Town Board meeting last Thursday. David E. Rattray

East Hampton Town officials working on revisions to a law governing farm and deer-excluding fences, and in particular how close they can be to property lines and roadways, heard the concerns of residents at a hearing last Thursday.

As the number of deer has increased on the East End, tall fences have proliferated, leading, as several people who spoke at the Town Hall hearing said, to a prisonlike landscape.

“This barrage of fencing is creating a suburban atmosphere and diminishing our property values,” Jim MacMillan of Amagansett told the town board.

Mr. MacMillan, a real estate broker, said the town’s environmental amenities were desirable and that too many tall fences had the opposite effect and could depress prices. Moreover, he said, the fences force wildlife onto roads.

This view was echoed by Susan McGraw Keber, a town trustee and member of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife who lives in Northwest. She called for a deer survey to help understand their numbers.

“Fencing at 10 feet, at 8 feet, at 6 feet, is to ensure that our deer are going to be hurt on our roadways. There is no place for them to escape to,” Ms. McGraw Keber said.

Also speaking at last Thursday’s hearing was Patti Wadzinski, an East Hampton resident since 1974 and a Sotheby’s real estate broker, who said she wanted to see natural species protected. A town regulation requiring corridors between fenced areas was not being enforced, she said.

“I think that this town, who professes to want open space and the natural world that we live in, would want to actually protect the open space and natural world that we live in,” she said. Ten-foot fences, she said, were absurd. “To me it looks like a gulag, a prison now. Is that how we want our town to look?” 

David Buda, a Springs resident and frequent presence at town board meetings, said that current fence regulations and the proposed revisions create a walled-in, urban look. Fences and other wall-like structures over four feet high in front yards and close to roads in agricultural areas were dangerous eyesores and should be prohibited, he said.

Deer fences up to eight feet high in side yards that are on two or fewer  property lines and are set at least 20 feet back from roadways are allowed under current law without architectural review board approval. No more than half of a property can be enclosed, and fences can only be up to six feet high on a roadside.

Under revised law, exceptions could be sought from the architectural review board for taller fences for actual farming operations, NancyLynn Thiele, a town lawyer, said. Under the current code, requests have to go to the zoning board of appeals.

Among other potential code changes is a clarification that driveway gates and posts be set back from the road by at least 20 feet.

Following the hearing, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that the board was not ready to approve the proposed changes, and that it would revisit the matter soon.