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Another Mullin Street property owner’s fence violates city code

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Merrill A. Peters still doesn’t understand why the city of Watertown made such a fuss over a controversial fence related to an extensive landscaping project his Mullin Street neighbor completed this summer.

Now Mr. Peters faces the same situation as neighbor Jacob S. Johnson, whose chain-link fence came under the scrutiny by city officials.

Early this spring, Mr. Peters, 73, a disabled Vietnam veteran who suffers from high blood pressure, breathing problems and other ailments, had a 4-foot-tall chain-link fence erected in his yard at 273 Mullin St. so he didn’t have to walk his year-old dog, Buddy. He could just open up his back door and let his dog go outside, Mr. Peters said.

As with the one his neighbor erected, Mr. Peters’s fence violates city code. And like his neighbor, Mr. Peters said, he should be able to build a fence on his property without the city telling him anything different.

“It’s stupid,” Mr. Peters said.

Earlier this fall, Mr. Johnson’s fence came under fire. The Watertown City Council and the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied his plea to keep his chain-link fence in his yard at 261 Mullin St. because he knowingly disobeyed the law when he erected it last summer.

City officials have been adamant that they cannot allow Mr. Johnson to keep his fence because it would set a precedent.

The situations with the two fences have similarities and differences.

Mr. Peters said he did not know his fence violated city code before it was erected, while his neighbor went ahead with his plans after city officials told him not to do so. Mr. Peters submitted a fence permit application on March 5, before he had Alpine Fence Co. install it for him.

But he failed to build the fence according to the plans he submitted in the permit, said Shawn R. McWayne, the city’s code enforcement supervisor. The fence was not supposed to extend beyond a certain point past his house, according to his permit.

Instead, the fence that was erected goes out to the sidewalk, which violates the city’s fence ordinance, Mr. McWayne said.

“I did it right, but the city said I did it wrong,” Mr. Peters said.

Both property owners said they believe the city’s fence ordinance doesn’t make sense. They violated the law because chain-link fences are prohibited in residential areas within 20 feet of the street.

Mr. Johnson’s fence also violates the law because it is within 5 feet of Mr. Peters’s driveway and another neighbor’s driveway.

City officials have defended their December 2011 decision that amended the fence ordinance to prohibit chain-link fences in front yards, mainly for safety reasons. Council members also have said chain-link fences are not aesthetically pleasing. Any fence erected before the ordinance was amended is grandfathered in and can remain.

Both fences were erected on side yards of their houses, but the city considers that part of the front yard. Both also were erected by Alpine Fence, Route 3, Hounsfield.

Mr. Johnson has acknowledged that he built the 4-foot fence after being told by the code enforcement office that he would be violating city code. According to the code office, Mr. Johnson failed to obtain a permit for the project, unlike Mr. Peters.

Mr. Johnson has vowed he will not tear down the fence. He plans to take legal action and file a lawsuit in state Supreme Court to keep it up.

On Monday, Mr. Peters met with code enforcement officials, promising them he will take down the fence in the spring.

Mr. Johnson expressed anger after hearing that the city was getting involved with his neighbor’s fence.

“Leave him alone,” Mr. Johnson said. “He’s a vet. He served our country. That’s despicable. Why bother him?”

Even before the matter with his fence came up, Mr. Peters said he “absolutely” supported his neighbor’s fight to keep his fence; he said he doesn’t believe the city is treating him or his neighbor fairly. He also said he likes the way the landscaping and in-ground pool project turned out.

“I can see better to pull out of my driveway with my car,” he said.

On Monday, Mr. McWayne criticized the fence company for erecting the two fences when company officials are well aware of the city’s strict rules on chain-link fences.

“I think they did a disservice to the clients,” he said.

Owner Nicholas Washburn did not return a reporter’s phone call.

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