After more than a month of debate, confusion and some harsh words, the Havre de Grace fence debacle is over. At least, for the time being.
By a 3-2 vote reversing an earlier 3-2 vote to force the removal of the fence, the city council approved Joe Fiocchi's revised license agreement to construct a wooden fence, in the city's right of way, near his home on Commerce Street.
Councilman Bill Martin recused himself from the discussion and the vote, as he has done in previous meetings, because of Fiocchi's ongoing dispute with his neighbor, Mary Martin, the councilman's sister.
The split vote didn't come without more debate between council members, however, and public comment from residents in support of the fence.
"I like fences," Allen Fair, who lives in the first block of Concord Place and has long been involved in real estate in the city, said. The city, however, should "come up with a standard" on how to judge all future fences and development standards.
"I'm the last one who likes more rules and regulations," he said, "but, in this case, we need to do something."
Fiocchi's wife, Elaine, also made her case.
She said it would be "a big plus for the city to have this fence adjacent to the sidewalk" because it would enclose any overgrown areas and make the area safer for walkers and joggers.
Fences have been grandfathered to owners, Fiocchi continued, because of old hedges that used to be present. On their property, she said, there's still an existing portion of a hedge that was present years ago.
Fiocchi added the fence would "align with the current character of the city."
Joanne Greathouse, who lives behind the Fiocchis on Giles Street, said since the family moved in more than four years ago "it's been a blessing to our little block."
She added that she understands why the couple needs a fence because of the people walking dogs nearby and children running through yards.
Several council members also saw no reason to deny the fence now that the Fiocchis were in compliance.
Council President Randy Craig, however, questioned the "inconsistency" with the submitted plans for the fence.
Previously, he said, the Fiocchis requested a 24-foot fence to "marry up a section of fence on private property with a hedge on public property." Now, the family is requesting about 1,700 square-feet to achieve the same function.
"Union Avenue, in my opinion, is a special historic street and this application is at one of the most prominent locations in our historic city at the corner of our largest and probably most beautiful park, one of our best assets," Craig said. "I don't support this request for this license agreement because I think it asks too much of this historic location along Union Avenue."
Although fences are permitted as long as they are no more than 4 feet high and on the side and rear of a yard, he continued, this property "creates a unique situation" because their side property is along Union Avenue.
"I don't think this much space is necessary to achieve what's being asked for," Craig said. He added that he would support a fence of similar appearance along the area requested so long as the fence was behind the tree line along Union Avenue and not directly against the sidewalk.
Councilman Joseph Smith said it is "arbitrary" how the council makes decision on public land.
He understands it's a prominent spot and hopes whatever happens with the agreement that the Fiocchis continue to "enjoy living here and enjoy the support of their neighbors and enjoy their city," but would like to see more camaraderie rather than tension between council members. "Let's take the emotion out of this."
Council members Barbara Wagner, David Glenn and Smith voted in favor of the agreement while Craig and Councilman John Corerri were opposed.