Some Hinsdale residents upset their neighbor is installing a 5-foot wrought iron fence along the front and side of his property allege he used his position as the chairman of the Historical Preservation Commission to get the regulations changed.
“This is really a misuse of power,” said Bob Schultz, a former village trustee.
Schultz said the amendment allowing wrought iron fences up to 5 feet passed without public input and without John Bohnen, the commission chairman, disclosing to the Village Board that he himself wanted that tall a fence at his First Street home.
Bohnen called the allegation nonsense.
The commission has been studying updating the village fence regulations and listing the topic on its agendas since at least 2014. Bohnen did not get a permit to put up his fence until Aug. 11 of this year.
Bohnen said years ago when the ordinance was written limiting fences in front yards to a maximum height of 3 feet, wrought iron fences should have been exempted.
“Wrought iron fences were intended to be excluded because by their very nature they do not obstruct vision in any way,” Bohnen told the Village Board in May 2016.
Residents who have installed wrought iron fences that conformed to the 3-foot height limit end up with fences that do not match the scale or the aesthetics of the homes, Bohnen said.
“These stunted fences detract from the overall appearance of many of the properties, particularly larger properties in historic (residential) districts,” Bohnen said.
Schultz wanted the Village Board to issue a stop work order to Bohnen. As of Friday, only the support posts had been installed. The support posts are well over 6 feet tall, but will be trimmed once the fence is installed.
Village President Thomas Cauley, Jr., told Schultz the village could not stop work that was being done in compliance with village ordinances.
Bohnen knew his neighbors would not like the fence, because they had objected to it once before, said Schultz and John Kayser, who lives across the street from Bohnen.
In 2003, Bohnen planned to erect a wrought iron fence around his property. At that time, the height of the fence necessitated a public hearing by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Notices of the proposal were mailed to property owners who lived within a specified distance of his home.
“We started getting so much backsplash and it was such a convoluted process, we just withdrew it,” Bohnen said.
Last year, the Village Board voted 4-1 to amend fence regulations to allow wrought iron fences up to 5 feet in front yards if the frontage of the lot is at least 125 feet wide and the size of the lot is at least 30,000 square feet.
The height limit for front yard fences for lots smaller than that is 4 feet for cast aluminum or wrought iron fences. For either size lot, an additional 1 foot of fence height is allowed to adjust to a slope.
Schultz and Kayser believe Bohnen should have disclosed to the Village Board that he asked for a variation for a wrought iron fence years ago and the neighbors objected.
“We are really opposed to the fence,” Kayser said. “In the past, we had input and now we don’t.”
Schultz’s father-in-law, Warren Furey, who lives next door to Bohnen, said he objects to tall wrought iron fences in front yards when they do not fit in with the neighborhood.
“Where the Bohnen fence is going makes it seem more a Bohnen wall and it doesn’t blend with our historic First Street historic district,” Furey said.
The Fureys and Bohnens live on one of the few brick streets in the village and an area designated a historic district.
Bohnen said he has traveled extensively and wrought iron fences are very common around turn-of-the-century homes.
Bohnen, who grew up in Hinsdale, said they also used to be more prevalent in Hinsdale.
Restoring his home, which was built between 1896 and 1898, has been his and his wife’s life’s work, said Bohnen, who owns the Hinsdale real estate agency County Line Properties. He believes the wrought iron fence will enhance his home’s appearance.
Cauley said the village followed the proper process for amending its regulations. The board discussed the proposed amendment at its May 3 and the May 17, 2016 meetings before approving it May 17, 2016.
At those meetings, then-Village Trustee Bob Saigh was the only Village Board member to object.
Saigh said in May 2016 the only push to change the fence ordinance, that he was aware of, came from the Historic Preservation Commission.
“The regulations are established, they’re clear, effective and apparently are widely accepted, because there is certainly no groundswell from residents, property owners or the public that they be changed,” Saigh said.
Cauley said in an email Tuesday the village staff confirmed that the proper steps were followed.