Discussion at Wednesday's Zoning Board of Adjustment veered off land use rules for a while when a new city resident explained why he needed a fence.
For this blog post, the person's name and exact location don't matter, but his issues do. As a father of a young boy, he wanted to protect his son from the sight of drug deals. As a property owner, he wanted to avoid a recurrence of finding a stranger in his yard, trying to enter the home. The incidents had led him to put up the fence, he said.
But the fence he put up was too high, according to the rules. It had to be removed. Board members suggested that the owner's surveillance cameras would be a deterrent, and said he should just call police if he saw drug activity.
The look on the applicant's face indicated a struggle in his thoughts. As a new resident, he felt his neighbors would know he was the one who called police and he didn't want any trouble, he said.
Don't be afraid to call the police, a board member said.You have a right to have these issues addressed.
In public comment, a neighbor spoke in support of the applicant, saying someone walks a Rottweiler on the block and the fence was needed because the dog owner could barely control the dog. A city resident said the owner should just move. Another neighbor said the ordinance had to be upheld.
In the end, the owner saw there was no option but to remove the fence and maybe relocate it, although he would lose use of some safe outdoor play space for his child. The board members were gentle but firm. Allowing this variance would "open the floodgates" for front-yard fences all over the city, some said. The variance was denied.
As the father left, some members of the audience followed, perhaps to express sympathy or give advice. I did not follow, because I wasn't sure how to tell the story. Several board members had urged the man to call the police whenever he saw illegal activity. But one board member had agreed that neighbors might become confrontational if they knew he had called the police. Others had promised to alert the police director and council to the problems raised by the father.
The dilemma of whether to call police or not came up for me on Labor Day, when between 1 and 4 a.m. people carried on a long argument in the driveway. There is a resident in the building next door who has a constant stream of visitors who yell for her to let them in to her place. One very belligerent man started yelling and cursing when she wouldn't toss out the key to the building's front door. He would leave, then return for more arguing. My windows open onto the driveway, so the noise kept me up for three hours. I always hesitate to call about quality of life issues, thinking the police need to deal with crime first, or that the incident would be over before police could get there.
Coincidentally, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp dealt with the issue of calling police in his Friday online newsletter. If you received it, take a look. There is even a chart of what details to note so you can provide police with precise information on the perpetrator (s). I have made those calls, it's the noise or suspicious person calls that I hate to make, in case I become that old lady on Block 832 who calls and the people are always GOA - gone on arrival. I think that might have been part of the dad's dilemma as well.
Somehow we all have to step it up and turn the tide on crime as well as those, uh, chronic problems like the students who smoke weed during and after school hours behind the garages next door. And that guy living in a car in the parking lot off Park Avenue, and ... you get the idea.