Bill seeks to remove barriers to deer fences


Barbara Shea tried everything to keep the deer away from her garden - sprays, urine, soap, even leaving talk radio on all night in hopes of scaring them off.

But nothing could stop the critters' voracious appetites. Worse, two family members got Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks.

"It was either give up gardening forever or have a deer fence," Shea said.

So she, like many of her neighbors in the rural valleys of Baltimore County, put up a tall, dark plastic screen fence. It has, she said, been a lifesaver.

The problem is, the legality of these fences, which need to be 8 feet tall or more to keep leaping deer out, is dicey at best in Baltimore County.

With certain exceptions and extra-large setbacks, they're legal under present law, but on Tuesday night, the County Council will consider a bill that would pave the way for them to be erected much more easily.

But the bill, co-sponsored by Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, and T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican, has raised alarm in some quarters from people who feel the legislation has not been well thought out and could have unintended consequences.

"All these people say we want open space to preserve the land, the rustic look of the countryside," said Peter Bell, who lives in Monkton. "Now everybody is going to be putting up these 8-foot fences around their property. It's going to look like we live in a penal colony."

The bill would allow the fences on properties zoned DR-1 and RC-5, which means around houses with lots of at least one acre. The fences could be 8 1/2 feet high and would need to be set back at least 10 feet from any public street. The county's director of permits and development management would also be allowed to require landscaping to buffer the fence from the street or neighbors.

The fences had been going up with little notice, those involved in the issue say, until a couple of years ago when a freak accident brought them to the county government's attention.

A buck running across Caves Road bounced off one of the screens and into the path of a car, McIntire said. The deer got up, ran into the fence again, bounced off and hit the car a second time.

The motorist complained to the county, and as a result, inspectors assessed a number of fence owners with fines, McIntire said. A year ago, Kamenetz and McIntire adopted a resolution asking the Planning Department to study the issue. The department's report, which was finished in February, concludes that deer fences are effective and when certain conditions are followed, they do not negatively affect adjoining properties or create a safety hazard.

The legislation being considered generally follows the Planning Department's recommendation.

Although McIntire is a sponsor of the bill, he said he has mixed feelings about it. He has heard a lot of complaints from people who say the deer have multiplied at a tremendous rate and are mutilating their landscaping. But he said he is also worried that fences will just push the deer onto the roads and into the path of cars.

Amy Newhall, who lives in Caves Valley, said deer quickly figure out where the fences are and adjust their paths accordingly. And deer are in the road with or without fences, she said.

No other Baltimore-area counties have specific deer-fence regulations, though Montgomery County passed a similar law a year ago, said Jack Dillon, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council. He said the law the council is considering is a step in the right direction.

"The deer have expanded their appetites ... and of course a lot of people put a lot of money in their gardens," Dillon said.

As for the aesthetics, fence owners say they are hardly noticeable unless somebody is standing right next to them.

"I live by the woods, and the only time you see [the fence] is when there's snow on it," Shea said. "It's very unobtrusive. I actually like looking at the deer, as long as they're on the other side of the fence. They're very picturesque and quaint when they're way over there."

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