Lawrence Eisler appeared at a hearing at the Council Chambers, Town Hall on Tuesday, December 1st, to appeal a decision made by the Municipal Planning Commission to refuse the existing fence on his property, 436, 3rd Street East, Drumheller.
The refusal cited Land Use bylaw 10-08; Part VII General Land Use Regulations Section 41 Fences and Hedges a) In a residential district, a fence or hedge located within the front yard of a lot shall not exceed 1.2 m (4ft.) in height.
Eisler’s front yard construction is no ordinary fence. When Eisler took over ownership of his grandparents’ house, he started a renovation project which would incorporate history from the lives his grandparents led in Drumheller, and his artistic vision. His grandfather, Nicholas, was born in Ukraine and after much travelling settled in Drumheller where he met Eisler’s grandmother, Anne, also born in Ukraine. Nicholas then became the town’s barber and Anne settled in as a respected teacher. Unfortunately Eisler’s grandfather passed away when Eisler was very young so he didn’t get the chance to get to know him very well. As he started on the renovation, Eisler wanted to incorporate as much as his grandparents’ history in the property.
“I have taken a small neglected piece of property and injected it with a little piece of myself, of my family, of my friends, and with the friendships that I am now developing…all of this with the passion that I feel for this place that I am inextricably bound to,” explains Eisler.
Part of his vision included the building of a structure in his front yard Eisler refers to as a sculpture: “the white section of the sculpture was in reference to him (Nicholas) and as I began to engage with the community and began to learn more about him, I would add to this piece. It was white to reflect the idea of the blank canvas, waiting to be drawn upon.”
When he found out his grandfather had been the town’s barber, he thought about assembling redundant pieces of the cedar siding from the property in a manner so as to resemble waste cuttings of hair.
During construction of the structure, in 2007, Eisler was contacted by the Town regarding his property and the work being done in the front yard. As a result of various conversations, Eisler agreed he would apply for a building permit before completing further work on the house. During the following 2 years, Eisler did no further work due to personal health issues and heard nothing more regarding this issue.
In September 2009, he received a letter from Development Control advising: “a recent inspection has shown the erection of a fence-like structure, which was in excess of 1.2m (4ft) in height, and an attached deck fastened to the single family dwelling within the front yard of the lands.” It was also stated that permits had not been approved for these structures.
Eisler then submitted an Application for Development Permit, detailing the proposed development as Sculptural Courts/Sculptural Frames. This application was rejected and Eisler lodged an appeal which was heard on Tuesday.
The Appeal Board started by explaining this was a semi-judicial board which cannot rule against the decision but only make recommendations, and any further appeal would need to go to Provincial Court of Appeal. The board also advised that any supporting documentation which was not provided at this hearing would not be admissible if the decision was appealed.
Each person present was given five minutes to contest the decision and Eisler started by reading a letter explaining his intent and vision, arguing the fence was a sculpture and highlighting he had found no reference to sculptures in the Bylaw database. He also stated that no-one had objected to his construction and people had been very supportive, particularly the immediate neighbours. The board then asked Eisler for clarification on certain points. When asked if Eisler carried on working on the structure after the permit refusal, he confirmed he had, and he later explained that, as he felt this was a sculpture, Eisler wanted to show what the construction would look like at a more advanced stage. The board reiterated it could not debate whether the fence was a sculpture, and could only decide whether the ruling was correct.
People present then presented their cases, highlighting they felt the construction made an impact, and it was “the best thing that had happened in the street for a long time”, furthermore this was “an asset to the community and it should be encouraged rather than discouraged”. A friend of Eisler who helped build the structure, said: “when I saw the result, I was shocked and amazed how beautiful it looked.”.
Concerns were expressed about the encroachment on neighborhood property, Eisler confirmed he had had agreement from the neighbours and the board pointed out a formal agreement would need to be made and recorded on the property deed.
A petition and letters of support containing 30 signatures and a letter against the construction, describing it as “an eyesore” were also presented to the board and read. Eisler also suggested the board meet with him on site to get a better understanding of the sculpture.
The board confirmed they are required to make a decision within the next 15 days.