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Board of Adjustment ponders Hyde Park fence

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Fences may make for good neighbors. However, as one resident learned at the Board of Adjustment last week, in Hyde Park that only holds true for fences that fall within very specific parameters.

Spencer Gibb was seeking a variance to allow a fence to remain at his 4905 Avenue G house. Gibb built the fence in 2012 without a permit. Though city code would have allowed that, it is not permitted under the Hyde Park neighborhood conservation combining district, or NCCD.

Board of Adjustment members voted unanimously to postpone the case in order to give Gibb time to talk to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. The existing fence is 6 feet tall, and the district limits fence height to 4 feet.

“Sometimes, on issues like this, they may not take a position. But at least you’ve met with them,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen, who noted that a lot of work went into the combining district.

Gibb has lived in Hyde Park for the past 17 years and purchased his house in 2007. He told the board he loved the neighborhood, and had built the fence with respect for the neighbors and good design.

Gibb said his property was unique to the neighborhood because it was set back “a few thousand square feet” from the street and had no driveway or garage. He added that while most homeowners could use their backyards and garages for storage, this was not an option for him.

“My front yard is my backyard for all intents and purposes. If the current fence were to be removed or even shortened considerably, then my entire world would be on display for all to see. There would be no privacy, and no security whatsoever,” said Gibb. “Not to mention the lack of ability to hold private events or functions, such as dinner parties, without the entire neighborhood being able to see, things that many of us take for granted.”

Gibb further explained that he owned dogs that could scale the allowed 4-foot fence, and there was no way to contain his dogs without “some kind of obstruction in the front.”

“I don’t see that you have any hardship. The fact is, you have a design preference,” said Chair Jeff Jack. “I understand that, and it’s probably very aesthetically pleasing, but it’s not a hardship.”

Gibb said that because of the unique placement of his house on the lot, he did not believe granting the variance would set a precedent in the neighborhood.

“The property setback and privacy issues that we are addressing here virtually assure that nobody else could receive the same exception, unless they were in my exact shoes,” said Gibb. “Those seeking to copycat the idea would actually have to lift up their houses and move them a few hundred feet backward to even begin.”

“I think that you need to have the support of your community,” said Jack. “The NCCD was a very hard-fought issue for Hyde Park. Without having any kind of indication from them that they are OK with this, I would have a hard time voting for it.”

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