An appeal of a fence denial before the Senoia City Council grew heated Monday night, with the city manager and the applicant calling each other liars.
In the fall, Craig and Carlotta Murray applied for and received a permit to build a wooden fence at their home on the corner of Johnson and Middle streets. The newly built home is in the city’s historic district.
After receiving the permit, Craig Murray started looking into vinyl fences. They look similar to wooden fences but are maintenance-free, so the Murrays decided to purchase a vinyl fence instead, and began construction.
When the work was about 75 percent complete, Bob Werner and James McCune with Senoia Code Enforcement happened to be riding by. Werner noticed that the fence was vinyl – which is not allowed in the historic district. It also seemed to be built in the city’s right-of-way – much too close to the street. They stopped by later that afternoon. McCune was in training, so Werner asked him to go contact the residents and tell them that their fence was in violation of city ordinances. Mrs. Murray was in the yard with her dog, a miniature pincher, on a leash. When McCune approached, the dog bit him on the leg. That interrupted the planned discussion of the fence.
The Murrays later got a call from Community Development Director Dina Rimi, telling them that the city was issuing a stop work order on the fence. City Manager Harold Simmons came by and spoke to the man installing the fence, Murray said.
Though he’d been told by the city to stop work, Murray directed the fence installer to continue the work. “I’d already spent $8,000 and I can’t stop right in the middle of it,” he said Tuesday. The corner posts had already been set in concrete.
The Murrays went before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to seek permission to keep the fence. The HPC denied the appeal, and the Murrays then appealed to the city council.
The Murrays’ decision to continue construction on the fence even after being told to stop drew the ire of the city council Monday night.
“You were told multiple times it was unapproved and to stop,” said Mayor Jeff Fisher.
“Before you built the fence, we talked,” Simmons said to Murray.
“I never talked to you,” Murray replied.
Simmons asked if he remembered when Simmons had asked him about the fence and Murray said he had never talked to Simmons and this was the first time they had met. Simmons said they had spoken on the phone right after Murray and Rimi spoke.
“I never spoke to you,” Murray repeated.
“You’re a liar,” Simmons said, stood up from his seat, next to the podium where the Murrays were standing. “I spoke to you and I told you not to put it up."
“He’s a liar,” Murray told the council.
“The fact remains that you read the ordinance,” the mayor said.
The city’s historic district guidelines say that fences shall be made of wood, metal or stone. It specifies that chain link and wire fences are not appropriate.
The council members agreed that the fence looks good, but the fact remains it is not allowed under the city’s regulations.
Murray took issue with the wording of the ordinance. It doesn’t say vinyl fences are prohibited. If it had, he wouldn’t have put one up, he said.
Carlotta Murray asked why there are other vinyl fences in town – at homes and at commercial property. There are also dumpster enclosures make of composite wood, she said.
“So once you started putting this fence up… were contacted by the city and told it’s not allowed… it sounds like you said let’s go find everywhere else,” said Councilman Maurice Grover. “Let’s not listen to what we were told to do, let’s just do it anyway because it’s been done elsewhere."
“That’s where I lose compassion for you in the circumstance,” Grover said.
If the Murrays want to file complaints against fences they believe are in violation of city ordinances, “then do so,” said the mayor.
The council voted unanimously to deny the appeal and require that the fence be removed within 30 days.
Mrs. Murray said she would be submitting complaints about every fence that appears to be in violation of city ordinances.
On Tuesday, Mr. Murray said he planned on filing an ethics complaint against Simmons for his behavior at the meeting.
“We didn’t deliberately do this,” he said Tuesday. “This wasn’t a scheme or a plan.”
It was an honest mistake, Murray said, but he had hoped common sense would prevail at the meeting.
“I understand I screwed up, I know I did. At the same time they had their minds made up before they came into that meeting,” he said.
Since he has to remove the fence and can’t return it, Murray said he would like to try to donate it to a church or other organization. “Maybe somebody could use it,” he said.