Southport is taking note of the right of way obstructions around the city as it prepares to readdress its enforcement policy.
City staff is creating a document of the incidences in the historic part of the city, starting on Bay Street and Moore Street.
“They saw lots of encroachments,” said Southport City Manager Bruce Oakley. “Some of them have been here for 50 years; some have been here for the past couple of years.”
Once the record is complete, it will be shared with the city aldermen before discussing the policy. Oakley said a comprehensive document will demonstrate “the extent” of the issue.
Fences, trees, rocks, walls, irrigation systems, plant beds and even parts of houses are in the right of way throughout Southport. The city itself has placed benches and swings on Bay Street in the public easement.
A solution could vary from a strict crackdown to continued enforcement on a complaint basis to spreading awareness that objects in the right of way are susceptible to damage if utilities have to be installed. At the June 13 board meeting, Oakley proposed grandfathering past violations.
Alderman Karen Mosteller pushed for heavier enforcement at the last board meeting on November 14. She said several residents had expressed concern to her about the lack of enforcement.
The city currently only acts on the few complaints it receives.
“It’s a challenge to determine,” said Oakley. “How do you tell this person this fence has got to go when this person’s wall has been there for 50 years? Or how do you tell one person that they can’t put a fence in when their neighbor already has one?”
As part of her board comments at the last meeting, Mosteller explained that some parts of Southport were platted with 99-foot rights of way by the city’s founder Joshua Potts in 1792. Potts believed the “salubrious breezes” of Southport restored his health and because of this belief, it’s thought that the easements were made wide to let the wind through.
“The openness created by these original 99 feet rights of way is unique and very much a part of the design of our city’s old town area,” Mosteller said.
The conversation of whether to pursue stricter enforcement has been going on for years, but especially since this past summer when a fence went up at a house near Kingsley Park. The city told the property owners they could not receive a permit for the fence and may be forced to remove it if a complaint were submitted.
“I said, ‘if you do it, you do it at your own risk,’” Oakley recalled.
The property owners built the fence anyway, and now there is a formal complaint on the house as well as other properties on Bay Street and Moore Street.
A discussion on the issue will likely be on the aldermen agenda in either December or January.