Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

East Village fence dismantled

Court denied motion to allow fence to remain standing throughout appeal

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Crews working for the Montgomery Village Foundation on Tuesday began dismantling a portion of the embattled East Village fence that divides the community from the adjacent Picton neighborhood.
Nearly 17 months after it was built, the controversial 1,600-foot fence dividing two Montgomery Village communities has been removed after a state appeals court ruled that the barrier could not stay up during an appeal.

East Village erected the fence in August 2006 to separate its community from the adjacent 214-home Picton neighborhood in North Village, calling it a last-resort measure to fight ongoing vandalism, trespassing and other nuisance crimes at homes near Picton.

‘‘I think finally the East Village board has awakened to the realities of the fence coming down. It’s long overdue,” North Village Homes Corp. president Dennis Barnes said Tuesday.

Angered by the fence’s construction, Picton residents are relieved to see the fence removed, said Cheryl Watson, who organized a Neighborhood Watch in Picton and joined the North Village board.

‘‘No doubt about it, there’s full consensus here in Picton that we want to have a tasteful celebration with our friends in East Village,” she said Thursday

East Village leaders will rebuild the fence if they win the appeal, said board President Terry O’Grady.

The battle over the fence has been waged in the courts for nearly a year. A county Circuit Court judge ruled in November that the county Planning Board was correct in its position that the fence needed to come down since it did not receive approval through the site plan process.

East Village is appealing that decision to the Court of Special Appeals and asked to be allowed to keep the fence in place during the process.

But on Jan. 25 the court denied that request, saying that either the fence come down or the East Village pay a $500-per-day fine.

There is one higher state court after the Court of Special Appeals.

Crews working for the Montgomery Village Foundation quietly began hauling off a small section of the fence in trucks at about 9 a.m. Tuesday. Work stopped mid-morning during heavy rain.

The work resumed Wednesday morning.

The Planning Board is scheduled to decide next week if it will charge the East Village the $500 per-day fine for days between the appeals court order and when the fence is completely dismantled, said Planning Board spokeswoman Valerie Berton.

With the fence gone, East Village leaders are calling on police to boost their presence.

‘‘I am really scared for my residents,” East Village’s O’Grady said. ‘‘They need to be sure to call police for everything; every loitering, every trespassing. We’ve got to stop it before it starts up again.”

In the Circuit Court proceedings, East Village said the fence cost nearly $60,000 to build and will cost $8,000 to tear down — and with a favorable appeal, $25,000 to rebuild. All of those costs, plus legal fees, would come from East Village coffers, which are filled almost entirely by assessment fees paid by its 1,389 homeowners.

Staff Photographer J. Adam Fenster contributed to this report.