Northern New York Newspapers
NNY Business
NNY Living
Sat., Aug. 29
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
In print daily. Online always.

Close Fence-gate


All rebellions must come to an end.

Since last summer, Jacob S. Johnson of Watertown has battled to maintain the fence he had installed on his Mullin Street property. The black chain-link fence encloses improvements he made to his side yard. These include an in-ground pool with a waterfall, a spacious patio area, decorative stone and elaborate landscaping.

The problem is that Mr. Johnson violated provisions of the city’s fence ordinance in doing this exterior work. What’s worse is that he knew he was running afoul of the city’s requirements but went ahead with the project anyway.

In 2011, members of the City Council passed an amendment to the fence ordinance. A resident on Haley Street said that a fence put up by her neighbor obstructed her view of the street.

This, she said, meant she could not back out of her driveway safely. The City Council revised the fence ordinance to prohibit fences less than 20 feet from the street and, simultaneously, less than 5 feet from an adjacent driveway. And all chain-link fences must be at least 20 feet from the street.

But Mr. Johnson installed his fence knowing that he didn’t have a permit and that the setbacks were not proper. He was informed by the city’s Code Enforcement division in early September that legal action would be taken if his property did not comply with the ordinance.

And, indeed, legal action was taken. On Jan. 24, the city filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court to compel Mr. Johnson to remove or relocate his fence. But he said he would resist the city for as long as he could.

During a City Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham suggested the city should begin fining Mr. Johnson every day until he complies with the city code. Mayor Graham believes that applying a financial pressure would be an effective approach to resolving the issue.

Mr. Johnson has attempted to get city officials to re-examine the fence ordinance and make an exception for chain-link fences, and he has a valid point. Visibility is much greater through chain-link fences than through some other ones, so they present less of a problem.

But the fact remains that the City Council has expressed no interest in reopening that issue. It’s doubtful the state court would order the city to revise its fence code in this way, so Mr. Johnson has set himself up for a major loss. It’s time he comply with city code and adjust his side yard accordingly.

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