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New fence will bring Mullin Street property into compliance

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WATERTOWN — Merrill A. Peters still doesn’t know why his chain-link fence caused such a stir last December.

But the issue will be put to rest with the installation of a wood fence, replacing one that violated a city ordinance.

On Friday, workers began installing the new fence at his home at 273 Mullin St. It was completed by Monday, ending the controversy once and for all.

“I’d rather have the old fence,” said the 73-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran who suffers from high blood pressure, breathing problems and other ailments.

In December, Mr. Peters was told by the city’s Code Enforcement Office that the chain-link fence he had installed early last spring was in violation of city code and had to be changed.

Code enforcement officials blamed a Hounsfield fence company for installing it that way.

The company, Alpine Fence Co., is installing the new fence — which only has a wooden part bordering the street, while the chain-link part remains in the backyard — free of charge so it no longer will violate the city’s fence ordinance.

On Monday, Mr. Peters still wasn’t sure why he could not keep the original fence, which he had installed so he didn’t have to walk his year-old dog, Buddy.

“It’s stupid,” Mr. Peters said.

Shawn R. McWayne, the city’s code enforcement supervisor, said Monday his office received a fence permit last week. He will not know whether the new fence complies with code until he sees the finished product, however.

The problem with Mr. Peters’s fence came to light after a neighbor’s fence sparked a controversy last year. The neighbor, Jacob S. Johnson, installed a fence as part of an extensive landscaping project last summer while knowing beforehand that it would violate the ordinance.

The Watertown City Council and the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied his plea to keep his chain-link fence in his yard at 261 Mullin St. because he knowingly disobeyed the law.

In January, the city sued Mr. Johnson, asking the state Supreme Court to compel him to remove or relocate the chain-link fence on his property.

Both fences violated the law because chain-link fences are prohibited in residential areas within 20 feet of the street.

Mr. Peters had said he did not know his fence violated city code before it was erected. He submitted a fence permit application March 5, before he had Alpine Fence Co. install it for him.

But he failed to have the fence built according to the plans he submitted in the permit.

City officials have defended their December 2011 decision that amended the fence ordinance to prohibit chain-link fences in front yards, mainly for safety reasons.

Council members also have said chain-link fences are not aesthetically appealing. Any fence erected before the ordinance was amended is grandfathered in and can remain.

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