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Zoning board fails to take up Mullin Street fence variance

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Jacob S. Johnson expressed frustration that the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals could not take up his variance request Wednesday night for the chain-link fence he installed in his yard at 261 Mullin St.

Accusing the city of “sweeping it under the rug,” Mr. Johnson wanted to know why he was able to attend the zoning board meeting, but City Attorney Robert J. Slye and a representative from the city’s code enforcement office did not.

Zoning board members blamed scheduling conflicts, noting that one code enforcement officer was on vacation and the other has been sick this week.

“If I’m to be somewhere, I am,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that he was not blaming the zoning board for the delay.

Board members told Mr. Johnson they did not want to discuss the case without Mr. Slye present, trying to assure him they were not purposely trying to take no action Wednesday as a delay tactic.

Mr. Johnson put up the chain-link fence at his Mullin Street home despite knowing and being told by city code enforcement officials that it would violate parts of Watertown’s fence ordinance.

On Wednesday night, ZBA members said they now expect to discuss the merits of the variance at the Nov. 20 meeting and then most likely vote on it in December.

Mr. Johnson, who brought with him two neighbors who support the fence, has said he intends to lobby for a change in the fence ordinance.

After his brief appearance Wednesday night, he said he plans to have his attorney, Anthony M. Neddo, Watertown, handle the issue “from here out.” He also hinted he plans eventually to take the matter to court to keep his fence up.

A majority of City 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.

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 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.

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