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Watertown zoning board rejects variance for man who put up illegal fence

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Jacob S. Johnson will have to lobby the Watertown City Council to change the ordinance if he wants to keep the chain-link fence he installed without a permit in his yard at 261 Mullin St.

On Wednesday night, the city Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance to Mr. Johnson for a 4-foot-high fence that he erected in his yard as a safety requirement related to an in-ground pool he installed last summer. The ZBA voted 3-0 against the variance, with members Christine E. Hoffman and Patricia Phillips absent.

Mr. Johnson acknowledged that he built the fence after being told by the Code Enforcement office that he would be violating city code. 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.

At the meeting, he contended that it would be a hardship to remove it, citing security reasons for his family and for the pool. Mr. Johnson also argued there was not enough room to place it with the 20-foot rule, claiming the fence then would be “at the water’s edge.”

The three ZBA members disagreed.

“This is self-created hardship,” ZBA Chairwoman Virginia R. Burdick said.

Before the vote, a defiant Mr. Johnson wondered why he was forced to go through the process, saying it was “an embarrassment.”

“I am 28 and I work my butt off,” he told the board. “Why am I here? Why are we doing this to each other? Now all the young successful people should move out of Watertown. This doesn’t make sense.”

Mr. Johnson also said his neighbors like the improvements to his yard, adding he did not know what harm that fence was causing.

Before the vote, City Attorney James A. Burrows reminded board members that Mr. Johnson was fully aware that the fence was not in compliance when he installed it.

After the meeting, his attorney, Anthony M. Neddo, Watertown, said his client will try to lobby council members to change the fence ordinance.

Mr. Neddo said he knew it would be an uphill battle to persuade the zoning board to grant the variance.

It may be just as difficult to get council members to agree to allow Mr. Johnson to keep his fence.

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.

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