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Can Watertown officials justify arbitrary part of city fence code?

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Another fence controversy in the city of Watertown shows how arbitrary officials are with some of their codes for residential areas.

Merrill A. Peters, who lives at 273 Mullin St., wanted to have an enclosed area for his dog, Buddy, to roam in while outside. So last year he had a chain-link fence put up around his front yard. Mr. Peters submitted a fence permit application and then hired Alpine Fence Co. to do the work.

But Watertown officials told Mr. Peters in December that his fence violated city code. They said the fence was not put up according to the plans he gave the city.

The issue hinges on some revisions that members of the Watertown City Council made to the fence code in 2011. One of the provisions bans chain-link fences from being located less than 20 feet from the street.

One of Mr. Peters’s neighbors, Jacob S. Johnson, has waged his own battle with officials over the fence code. Mr. Johnson also had a chain-link fence put up on his property, 261 Mullin St., this time to enclose a side yard with a pool.

The difference here is that Mr. Johnson proceeded with his project knowing that it wouldn’t comply with city code. He failed to obtain a required fence permit and knew the setbacks violated the code but went ahead with the work anyway. Mr. Johnson has mounted legal challenges to the city’s demand that he comply with the fence code, to no avail so far.

However, Mr. Peters had part of the fencing on his property changed this week to obey with the code. At its own cost, Alpine Fence Co. put up wooden fencing facing the street while the chain-link fence remains in the backyard. Now Buddy has plenty of space to romp as his owner avoids any further legal issues with the city.

Obviously, any additions or revisions to residences must adhere to city codes. People should ensure they are carrying out work in compliance with the statutes passed by city officials.

But let’s face facts: Some of those mandates are absurd. Members of the City Council have defended the provision regarding chain-link fences as one that addresses safety concerns and aesthetic tastes.

How is a wooden fence (which you can’t see through all that well) located near a street any safer for drivers and pedestrians than a chain-link fence (which provides greater visibility)? What enhanced protective feature does the wooden fence offer?

And if chain-link fences are so displeasing to view, why not ban them completely in front or side yards? Does having them set back at least 20 feet from the street really make them anymore visually comforting?

This sounds like a case of city officials passing rules for the sake of passing rules. If they have a reasonable explanation for this completely arbitrary ruling on chain-link fences, we’d like to hear it.

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