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Watertown man vows to keep his fence after City Council refuses to change rule

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Even after the Watertown City Council rejected his plea to let him keep his fence, Jacob S. Johnson vowed he would not tear down the chain-link fence on his Mullin Street property.

On Monday night, City Council members refused to amend the city’s fence ordinance or allow an exemption for his fence, contending that Mr. Johnson knew he was disobeying the law this summer when he erected it.

Afterward, a defiant Mr. Johnson said the fence at 261 Mullin St. will not come down without a fight.

“We’ll keep the fence,” he said after the meeting. “The city can take it down. I won’t take it down. I refuse.”

That means the controversy — which some city officials have dubbed “fencegate” — is apt to continue for a while.

During the discussion, City Attorney Robert J. Slye told the council the city would have to take legal action in state Supreme Court to order the fence removed.

If the matter goes to court, it could cost the city “a couple of thousand dollars,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said after the meeting.

Mr. Johnson has acknowledged that he built the fence after being told by the code enforcement office that he would be violating city code. According to the code office, Mr. Johnson failed to obtain a permit for the project. The fence also violates the ordinance because chain-link fences are prohibited in residential areas within 20 feet of the street and because the fence is within 5 feet of Mr. Johnson’s two neighbors’ driveways.

About eight supporters attended the meeting, with three people asking why he cannot keep the chain-link fence in his yard, which used to be a vacant lot that had overgrown brush and bushes.

“He put up a beautiful fence, a beautiful pool,” Adams resident John E. DeWitt said. “I just don’t see it.”

Before the informal vote, council members said they had no choice but to deny his request because Mr. Johnson was fully aware the fence was not in compliance when he installed it.

They also defended their decision of two years ago that amended the fence ordinance to prohibit chain-link fences in front yards mainly for safety reasons. Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said chain-link fences are not aesthetically pleasing.

Two weeks ago, the city Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance to Mr. Johnson for the 4-foot-high fence that he erected in his yard as a safety requirement related to an in-ground pool he installed last summer.

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