Hoop' shelters will have to comply with zoning laws

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    VERNON-An idea that seemed like a great alternative to building a garage to shelter a car or boat has turned controversial, and Township Manager Don Teolis has warned the town council to get ready to hear from angry residents. The issue, discussed at the last council meeting, is the use of canvas-covered hoop structures that are held down with pegs and increasingly used by homeowners as an economical way to shelter the sorts of things that are otherwise kept in sheds or garages. According to the zoning code, they are accessory structures, and as such must adhere to regulations governing where they can be placed on a lot. In the first half of this year, in response to complaints from residents who didn't want to see the hoops - some of them bright blue - in the front yards and driveways of their neighbors, the council decided to enforce their zoning regulations, but it gave residents six months to bring the shelters into compliance or face fines. "January is the six-month point," said Teolis, who, in October, toured the town with a zoning officer, taking note of which shelters were clearly not in compliance with code. The town notified the offenders by mail that time was running short to rectify their situations. "A lot of people are very unhappy," Teolis said. The most common complaint, he said, is that the homeowners "put it where they need it to be. If they put it in a place to be in compliance, it's not where they need it." By ordinance, accessory structures can be placed in side yards or back yards with the proper set-backs. They can not be put in front yards or driveways, but that's where some of them are. "We've been as lenient as we could be," said Teolis. "But we're doing what we said we would do." Township Attorney Joe Ragno pointed out that the offending structures were never legal. But the town did not get involved until they started generating complaints. Teolis and the council acknowledged that enforcing the zoning code will inconvenience many people. "There are areas where it's not easy to comply because there aren't many places to put the structures." The meeting was held three days before Thanksgiving with Mayor Ira Weiner and Councilman Jeff Patterson absent. Councilmen Neil Desmond and Phil Weiler supported Teolis, but Deputy Mayor Janet Morrison wondered if the township wasn't gradually intruding on people's lives. "In little, incremental steps, we are growing government in this town," she said. "Every time you increase the list of things that are going to be regulated and inspected, you're adding government." Weiler said it's not fair to the residents who comply with the law to allow others to erect the structures wherever they wish. "Part of the reason we enforce the law is because of people who do the right thing," he said. In the past year, the council has also passed ordinances addressing abandoned houses and property maintenance, also in response to complaints. "If you talk to people around town, people are concerned about their property values," said Desmond. If some people are complaining about the possibility of having to move or take down their shelters, he said, "you'll find an equal number who will say we're doing the right thing because we're improving property values. "We're doing what we're supposed to do."