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Controversial Mullin Street fence may go before City Council

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The supervisor of the city’s code enforcement office has warned that Watertown City Council members should not allow a Mullin Street homeowner to keep a fence he built when he knew it was in violation.

In a Sept. 24 memo, Code Enforcement Supervisor Shawn R. McWayne wrote that Mullin Street resident Jacob S. Johnson “was well informed of the city’s requirements as they relate to fence installation,” so council members should not change the ordinance.

“I strongly believe that making changes to the local laws and regulations based on individual circumstances will cause more problems in the future,” he wrote.

Mr. Johnson put up the chain-link fence at 261 Mullin St. despite knowing and being told by city code enforcement officials that it would violate parts of Watertown’s fence ordinance. Mr. Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, has said he intended to lobby for a change in the fence ordinance at tonight’s council meeting. He also plans to seek a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

A majority of council members have said they do not believe the fence ordinance should be changed on behalf of Mr. Johnson since he was told the fence would be in violation and built it anyway.

According to the code enforcement 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 less than 20 feet from the street.

If it goes to court, the city can issue an appearance ticket for City Court or obtain a court order from state Supreme Court to get Mr. Johnson to comply with the ordinance.

Mr. Johnson has contended that he improved the neighborhood by completing the project. It replaces a side yard hidden from the street by a row of overgrown bushes. He also said he was forced to install a fence to comply with state law for pools.

Mr. Johnson also has blamed the problem on an amendment that the City Council passed nearly two years ago that prohibits a fence less than 5 feet from a neighbor’s driveway when the fence is within 20 feet of the street. It was passed to appease a single Haley Street resident who complained that her neighbor installed a fence so close to her driveway that she could not safely back out of it.

In other business, the council will begin the process again to find a security firm for Flower Memorial Library. Two weeks ago, members tabled a resolution to pay Denog Protective Security Services Inc., Bronx, $15.35 per hour for the job. Members questioned why a company from the Bronx could handle the job and wanted to complete some additional research on the firm.

The council meeting starts at 7 p.m. today in the third-floor council chambers of City Hall, 245 Washington St.

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