Mar 10, 2023 - News

After thefts, Des Moines approves business' electric fence

A photo of a fence in Des Moines.

Bell Brothers Heating and Air Conditioning's proposed electric fence will stand near Sixth and Corning avenues. It'll be set back from its current fencing and several feet taller. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

A 10-foot-high electric security fence wrapped around a section of Oak Park neighborhood business Bell Brothers Heating and Air Conditioning was approved by the Des Moines City Council this week.

Why it matters: The council's vote reverses a January decision by the Plan and Zoning Commission, which referenced a city ordinance that limits electric fences for public health and aesthetics reasons in its initial rejection.

  • But Bell Brothers president Jason Gassmann successfully argued that the fence will be safe, warning that failure to approve it could result in the business relocating.

Catch up fast: Since April 2022, Bell Brothers has had multiple incidents involving thefts, resulting in an estimated loss of around $70,000, Gassmann told council members.

  • Thieves even stole a surveillance camera, he noted.

Details: The electrified fence will run on a 12-volt battery charged by solar panels, according to city documents.

  • It will be about a foot behind an existing eight-foot-tall chain link fence on the northern section of the property, about a block from the Riverview Park pedestrian bridge.

Zoom in: City code only allows electrified fences for agricultural uses associated with livestock, but there are some variances for businesses in heavy industrial areas, DSM Planning and Urban Design administrator Jason Van Essen, told zoning commissioners in January.

  • The commissioners initially denied the request in a 12-2 vote under concern about setting precedent.

What they're saying: Coming into contact with the fence would be an unpleasant experience but it cannot permanently harm people — even those with pacemakers — because of its short blasts of current, Chris Heaton of Amarok Security told the City Council this week.

  • Yes, but: DSM resident Jolene Prescott urged the council to engage in a larger discussion about the fence, showing a photo of what she said shows her grandson's ability to stick his arm more than 12 inches beyond the current fencing, adding "we don't know what a shock would do to a child."

Of note: Bell Brothers declined Axios' request for comment but noted they're working with Prescott to address her concerns.


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