Neighbor’s fence near Urbana City Schools administration office causes controversy


A neighbor’s new fence next to Urbana City Schools’ Wood Street property needs to be moved, Urbana city officials say. Robert Kiehn’s home at 501 Boyce St. is adjacent to the school district’s 711 Wood St. administrative offices.

Kiehn received a zoning permit from the city of Urbana on April 29, 2016, to put the fence on his property, Urbana Community Development Manager Doug Crabill said. The permit was issued to place the fence on Kiehn’s property, and it needed to have a “view triangle” on the southwest corner so drivers pulling from the school district’s driveway could see around it.

But the fence was put on Urbana City Schools’ property. That is a violation of the city’s zoning code and the permit Kiehn received from the city.

Kiehn, in a letter dated Jan. 16 to the Urbana school board, said he wanted the fence to protect his family and himself.

Kiehn, who says he’s a combat veteran of Afghanistan, stated in the letter to the school board the “frequent traffic of the Administration Office, both adults and passing students, causes me a great deal of anxiety.” Moving the fence onto his property instead of its current location on school property “would allow anyone to look into my yard where my children play, therefore defeating the intended purpose of the fence.”

Kiehn said he first contacted Urbana schools Superintendent Charles Thiel in August 2016, seeking an easement or to compensate the school district for placing the fence on its property. He stated he waited for months to hear from the district but could not wait longer before erecting the rest of the fence, as he had belongings stolen from his shed and observed high school students crossing his property, sometimes taunting and teasing his children while they played in the yard.

Fence aligned with others’ fences

Kiehn said the fence is aligned with another adjacent property’s fence. Urbana schools officials discovered the property line was in the wrong place following a survey of the land for the construction of the new high school.

Kiehn offered in the letter to maintain the property on both sides of the fence and stated he would return the property to its previous state if the fence is damaged or needed to be removed or repaired. He also offered to have his attorney prepare all documents and said he would pay for fees associated with the legal process.

Thiel discussed the issue with the school board at its Tuesday meeting. He said he spoke with Kiehn previously, and had discussed relocating the property line, if the two other property owners affected would agree. He said at the time he did not have time to do it himself, as he has been working on getting the new schools designed and built.

After the discussion, Kiehn finished putting in the fence at its current location.

On Oct. 28, 2016, a zoning inspection determined the fence was in non-compliance with the permit, as it was located on the district’s property, Crabill said. On Nov. 16, 2016, Zoning Officer Adam Moore sent a letter to Kiehn notifying him of the violation. A second letter was sent on Dec. 16, 2016, since no response was received, and no correction of the fence placement took place.

The city froze its enforcement process once it received a copy of the letter Kiehn sent to Thiel on Jan. 16.

School board nixes easement idea

Thiel asked the board if it would be interested in an easement to address the issue.

Board member Alyssa Dunham said ordinarily she would favor an easement, but that Kiehn had erected the fence despite seeing the physical boundaries laid out by the survey.

“Everybody can see (the survey line),” she said, noting surveyors put up a string marking property boundaries. “To me, (he) knew where the line was and (he) chose to (put up the fence).”

Dunham added the fence is so close to the administrative parking lot that she fears it will be damaged by people trying to pull out of parking spaces.

“I’m shocked, honestly, at how close it is,” she said.

Other board members expressed similar sentiments and asked Thiel to communicate with Kiehn about not granting an easement. They added the matter should be handled by the city .

With the school board’s decision to decline an easement, Crabill said the city will restart its enforcement process. The city will establish a deadline for Kiehn to comply with the zoning permit. If the issue is not corrected, the city will consider enforcement through the Champaign County Municipal Court, he said. The violation is a misdemeanor under the city’s zoning code and could lead to civil or criminal penalties.

Crabill said the city has not yet reviewed the case with the law director to determine the next steps.

A fence put up by a neighbor of Urbana City Schools is on the district’s property. The school administration building is on the right. fence put up by a neighbor of Urbana City Schools is on the district’s property. The school administration building is on the right. Casey S. Elliott | Urbana Daily Citizen

By Casey S. Elliott

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Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

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