Good fences make good neighbours

City Hall aims to improve wait-times for permits

The City of Victoria may soon have design guidelines for downtown fences and gates

The City of Victoria may soon have design guidelines for downtown fences and gates

Barbed wire fences, scissor gates and other low-quality, fortress-style barricades have been popping up in downtown doorways and window frames violating city bylaws.

Victoria city council has had enough and is taking action.

“It’s about wanting to find that balance between safety and making your neighbourhood attractive,” said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

Council gave first nod to new design guidelines and easier approval procedures to encourage businesses  to go through the proper channels.

If given final approval, the new rules will apply to the downtown and other village areas.

Property owners in these high-traffic zones have been installing fences, gates and shutters to prevent people from urinating or sleeping in doorways and committing crimes.

One problem is that these crime-prevention strategies may be aggravating the problem. 

“It goes back to the broken window theory,” said Thornton-Joe. 

“If you have barbed wires over all your fencing, it gives the message that there’s concerns in that neighbourhood and often evidence has found that the problems actually escalate.”

The proposed design guidelines are primarily about safety, Thornton-Joe said. Fences should not swing out into the sidewalk, should be wide enough to let a number of people through in case of emergency, and must maintain transparency.

Esthetically, the fences and gates should fit in with the character of the building and street. 

The goal, said senior city planner Andrew Hudson, is to maintain an inviting, welcoming environment.

“The whole intent (of the guidelines) is to help us make a decision on those individual applications so there is less subjectivity,” said Hudson. 

Once guidelines are in place, council will no longer have to approve each and every development permit application to build a fence or gate. City staff will have the authority to advise and approve these structure, making the process simpler, cheaper and faster.

It’s partly about improving customer service, said Alison Meyer, manager of development services. 

“It’s a way to help business owners deal with their safety concerns and gate concerns in a much more expedited fashion.” 

Expect more time-saving measures at City Hall to come down the pike this year. The city is planning to spend $2.5 million on customer-service improvements to ensure businesses and residents have a positive experience. 

Next, city council will discuss enforcement options against the approximately dozen  fences erected without a development permit. The proposed design guidelines will go to public hearing.