When viewing the chain-link fence that Jacob S. Johnson had previously erected near his Watertown home and the aluminum fence he had put up earlier this week, there are some modest aesthetic differences.
Some people prefer the slotted look of the aluminum fence to that of chain link. In their minds, it offers a more upscale appearance.
But should this subtle difference be enough for members of the City Council to alter the fence ordinance? Just how much do they want to micromanage what people do with their private property?
Mr. Johnson had a black chain-link fence erected around a side yard on his property at 261 Mullin St. last year to enclose an in-ground pool with a waterfall, a spacious patio area, decorative stone and elaborate landscaping. And the side yard looked good: As the owner of Jake’s Landscaping & Lawn Care in Watertown, Mr. Johnson knows what he’s doing.
But he went ahead with the project knowing full well that it violated city regulations. He failed to obtain a required permit for the fence and didn’t adhere to the city’s fence ordinance for setbacks with chain-link fences.
In 2011, members of the City Council amended the fence ordinance after a Haley Street resident said that a fence put up by her neighbor obstructed her view of the street as well as oncoming traffic. This, she said, meant she could not back out of her driveway safely.
The council revised the 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.
The need to guarantee visibility for residents pulling out of their driveways, people walking or biking down the block, or motorists driving down the street is essential. So the revisions to the fence ordinance that enhance public safety make sense.
But for council members to isolate chain-link fences as the ugly stepchild who must remain in the shadows is absurd. Most people would not be able to distinguish between Mr. Johnson’s black chain-link fence and his black aluminum fence unless they were walking right by it. The notion that lifting this ban on chain-link fences will see property values plunge is silly.
First of all, the city wouldn’t need to place a specific ban on chain-link fences if they were so universally detested because no one would want to put one up. So the only reason that council members must maintain this regulation is to keep residents who want chain-link fences from erecting them close to the public sidewalk or street.
Obviously, there is a segment of the city’s population that has no problem with chain-link fences. How vulgar could they be if so many people would have them erected if they could?
This means that some council members are imposing their sense of aesthetics on the entire community. Do they truly believe this is their role as public officials?
Just like the roommate law debacle that played itself out last year, this is an example of City Council members overreaching just to appease some residents. Unless it involves safety or serves some other significant public interest, the council should let people manage their own property. Isn’t that what living in a free society is all about?