City seeks solutions to screening problems
Kelsey Kruzich / Staff photo -- Several residents have asked the city about repairing this screening wall near the intersection of Parker Road and Custer Road, but city staff says there is little they can do since such walls are privately owned. This and other screening issues will be the focus of a task force commissioned during Monday's council meeting.
The city of Plano will form a task force to address several concerns related to the screening of residential neighborhoods, it was decided at Monday's City Council meeting.
While the members of the task force have not yet been identified, it will likely include members of the public works, property standards, parks and recreation, and planning departments. The team will be charged with developing recommendations for the council regarding solid walls and landscaping screens.
At the meeting, Public Works Director Gerald Cosgrove told the council there are 153 miles of screening walls in the city, half of which are the city's responsibility to maintain.
The city began providing and maintaining these walls for neighborhoods that back up to streets in the mid-1970s, and some of them have started to age and draw complaints from residents. Replacing such walls would cost the city about $270 per linear foot, Cosgrove said.
Meanwhile, many screening walls maintained by commercial businesses and homeowner's associations have also fallen into disrepair and drawn similar complaints. But property standards can only compel a property owner to repair a wall if it poses a safety threat, and neither the city nor most property owners are in a position to afford aesthetic repairs.
"It would probably cost [property owners] a fortune [to take] the wall down, never mind to replace it," Cosgrove said. "Also, we have some HOAs that, over time, may not be able to afford the cost of replacing the walls that they're responsible for."
On Thursday, Mayor Phil Dyer said screening is a serious, ongoing commitment and expense for the city, adding that not all of the walls that have fallen into disrepair are necessarily old.
"We've just flat got a lot of walls that weren't built well in the first place, or they were built very well and they're 30, 35 or 40 years old," he said. "... While the wall might be structurally sound, it's leaning now. Our soil's not very conducive to screening walls lasting forever."
The city's parks department also maintains landscape-based "living" screens in many neighborhoods. As pieces of a landscaping screen begin to die, noticeable gaps appear. Replanting is not as easy as it seems since it may take a few years for any new landscaping to grow to match the existing screen, Cosgrove said.
The questions the city should be asking, Cosgrove said, include what the city should do with privately-owned walls that have fallen into disrepair, whether or not landscape screening should still be allowed and whether or not the city should build new masonry walls where no screening currently exists.
One screening issue the city intends to address immediately is a 1974 resolution that requires the city to help pay for screening around unscreened neighborhoods. Though no neighborhoods have petitioned the city under the resolution, the council will likely revoke the resolution at the second council meeting in February.
"[Revoking the resolution], I think, is extremely critical, because it is a liability for us, and there is no way in the world that we could commit or match that," Cosgrove said. "I think it would just be a significant impact on us."
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