Fence dispute dominates Havre de Grace city hall talk

A dispute over one man's fence in a Havre de Grace city right-of-way has raised the hackles of some residents and been a hot topic of conversation at city hall.

The city council voted last month to make Joe Fiocchi remove his fence in the 400 block of Commerce Street, contesting that he asked for forgiveness after having it erected, rather than seeking permission before putting the fence in a city right-of-way.

The issue dominated Monday's two-hour-long council meeting, however, especially after council members allowed a small, brick wall owned by David and Karole Rimel, in the 800 block of Market Street, to remain in a city right-of-way.

Fiocchi and his supporters have put up signs to "Save the Fence," rallying against the city council and demanding a re-vote. He also questioned the decision of Councilman Bill Martin, whose sister is Fiocchi's neighbor and is in a bitter dispute, including a lawsuit, with Fiocchi, to recuse himself from the vote.

Councilman David Glenn, who is pushing for better documentation requirements, said the Commerce Street fence and the Market Street fence are completely different cases.

He said Fiocchi applied for a permit in which he indicated he would not construct anything in the right-of-way.

In the other case, the city apparently informed the Rimels they could replace their siding with brick and "add a little wall," Glenn said.

"It's not a fence. If you look at it, it's just a little brick wall," Glenn said, adding that in the future, anything in a city right-of-way should have documentation.

"In this specific case, we didn't have it," he said. "There was a phone conversation between the city and the applicant, and that's what we have to go on."

Because of the "miscommunication," the Rimels' structure is allowed to stay.

Not a target, officials say

Glenn and other council members, as well as Mayor Wayne Dougherty, said there was no attempt to unfairly target Fiocchi by denying him his fence.

"There's been other people in the right-of-way that have had to have things taken down," Glenn said, although he could not think of any specific examples immediately.

At Monday's council meeting, Councilman Randy Craig said he found a case from 2011 in which Wagner and then-Councilman Jim Miller voted to deny construction of a fence of any height on Stokes Street.

He said the history of fence approvals shows people often ask for forgiveness, not permission.

"Right-of-way issues are complicated," Craig said.

Also at the meeting, Councilwoman Barbara Wagner indicated the city or council should make some changes after the Fiocchi case, but no one took up a motion to reconsider the issue.

"I personally feel we've made some mistakes that we should consider mending," Wagner said, adding she heard some residents' comments about "what is being perceived as being unfairly applied."

"I agree we should let it be known that everyone, whether you're friend or foe, is expected to follow these rules or pay the associated penalties," she said. "When this council grants a license agreement, they are not approving the violation without a fine."

Mayor denies retaliation

Dougherty, who was criticized for being absent from the meeting where the vote on the Fiocchi fence took place, justified his absence at the meeting by explaining he and his family had planned a vacation for that day a long time ago.

In an attempt to justify that no favoritism was shown in the Fiocchi case, Dougherty read a letter he received regarding his request to put a white picket fence on his own property.

He said the city required him to write a check to process the license agreement and informed him he would be notified of the next step.

Asked later if the Fiocchi case was at all affected by Martin's relationship to the situation, Dougherty replied: "Absolutely not."

"I don't think there was any retaliation," he said.

Councilman Joe Smith said Tuesday he agrees with Glenn and hoped to see any miscommunication avoided in the future.

"I am trying to understand how a reasonable solution would be met," Smith said. "There's been a lot of emotion here, a lot of innuendoes passed around."

Question of consistency

"I think the question on everyone's mind is how consistently have the rules been applied," he said. "The city, I think, failed to provide proper instruction on what [Rimel] was approved."

He also said he did not see "any significant evidence" of favoritism in the Fiocchi case, and did not want "to see anyone made an example."

Glenn said he hopes to see drawings and specific documentation required in the future to make things more fair.

"I don't think anybody is at fault or anybody is to blame," he said about the controversy.

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