by Tommy Britt
If you have ever been responsible for writing a regularly published article, you will understand the crisis mode you go into when the publisher sends you an “Article Due” notice and you haven’t got the foggiest notion as to what you’re going to say that could possibly have any impact on the readers. This month was certainly no exception. Somewhere there is a divine hand in this article writing process because on cue an issue always pops up that is worthy of and appropriate for notice on a larger scale. The poetic part of this particular issue is it actually relates to my own situation as a property owner.
The long and short of it is this. Privacy and some expectation of it. When do your neighbor’s “preying eyes” become a problem? For years I have told prospective Timbergrove Manor buyers and new residents that the best part of this neighborhood was that your neighbors are nosey enough to know what you’re doing but not nosey enough to really care. In other words, they will notice if you buy a new car. They will for sure notice if some enterprising thief is hauling all your stuff off. They will pay attention to and admire your new landscaping. They will even know what time you leave for work and come home. They will probably figure out if you’re getting a divorce. That said, they will notice but it’s rare that they will pass judgment or be too critical. Actually, we are probably not different than most closely knit urban neighborhoods. Our close proximity makes it easy to notice things.
This brings me to a recent request for a variance to build a 20’ tall privacy fence. The issue was the valid concern of loss of privacy due to the two story home next door. To be honest, I completely empathize with the “what about my privacy being violated” issue. As I said, the poetic part of this issue is my family is dealing with the future loss of privacy due to a new two story home being constructed next door. To sweeten the pot, we are in the process of having a pool built. So to be frank, I get it. I completely understand that my life is going to be a little different. My new neighbors are going to have every opportunity to watch me come and go if they so wish. That said, if that bothers me, what are my options to recover some of that privacy?
The offended property owner submitted a couple of options to block the view of the back yard and, to his credit, in the process made a good faith effort to disguise the privacy fencing. Try as he might to dress it up, in the end, no matter the configuration, what was being proposed is the ability to build a fence tall enough to ensure complete privacy no matter how high it has to be. The request for variance was considered by the DRCC and unanimously turned down. The TMNA Executive Committee heard the property owner’s appeal and affirmed the earlier decision of the DRCC. The really good news is the owners of the two story home met with the offended property owner and have agreed to have obscured film installed on the windows that look directly on to the back yard. The property owner seeking to recover some privacy is also considering landscaping and other passive options given to him.
The reasons for turning down the request varied with each person tasked with the review, but in the end, they all coalesced around the central idea that there were other options, such as landscaping and passive shields such as decorative sail sheeting, that would solve most, if not all of the concerns raised by the property owner.
My personal take on this was; where would this quest for absolute privacy end? Do we really want to live in a neighborhood where everyone is free to build 20’ structures to ensure privacy? Do we want to start the trend of building huge structures that wall us in? I think not.
This is not new ground we are covering here. Two story homes did not just get invented nor did cramming them into small urban and suburban spaces where some residents have pools. Drive around Houston and watch the construction that is going on. The next time you’re at a friend’s house with a pool, chances are you will notice how un-private it is. Better than that, sit in the comfort of your home and use Google Earth. This is an issue that home owners deal with in all large cities with vibrant residential communities. The world is not perfect nor should we expect that standard. How we deal with those imperfections is the real problem. It is also a subject that will come up again. As the old homes go out and the new ones take their place, topics like privacy and lack thereof are sure to become more numerous
One of the more interesting comments made by an executive committee member to the appealing homeowner was that she had grown up in the Timbergrove Manor and, in her youth, no one had privacy fences. There were either no fences or they were chain link. Equally interesting was his response: “Times have changed.” My silent response was, “Yes they have, my friend.”