Project Problems and the Power of Perspective

I never thought I’d write a thousand words about a fence, but when you own an old fixer-upper, project problems have a way of taking over your brain.

See, we recently decided to replace our old, ugly, and damaged chain link fence with a beautiful new 6′ wooden privacy fence. Here’s why:

*Just look at how ugly our old one was.

Good god that's ugly.
Good god it was ugly.

*Taco is a ball of snuggles, but even we can admit that she looks like she could rip out your throat. When she’s outside and people walk on the sidewalk next to our fence, she charges and barks because she’s a good guard dog. It sucks for everyone.

Photo of Michelle, Conrad, and Taco, a brindle pitbull with cropped ears whose coloring makes her look like a tiger.
She’s cute, but kinda scary cute

*There have been a few really sad stories recently about dogs being stolen from homes and yards in Baltimore. Taco is a very beautiful  dog. In fact, strangers constantly stop us during walks to ask if we want to breed her (yup nope spayed no thank you). A privacy fence will make me feel a lot more comfortable leaving her outside alone.

*We want to get security cameras, but our current fence was too short. Yeah, I’ve got issues with the idea of expanding the surveillance state, but it’s a neighborhood-wide effort and we want to contribute.

*Mowing is a waste of time, so we’ve always wanted to rip out our lawn. By reconfiguring the fence layout, we minimized the amount of grass that we had to take out.  We ended up hauling out 1800 pounds of sod and we’re not quite done yet, so we were pretty happy that we didn’t try to do the whole damn thing. (Keep an eye on my Instagram for progress photos!).

*Our old fence was not only ugly, but looked out of place. Our new one was designed to echo the aesthetic of our neighbors’ properties.

Case in point:

Two 6' tall wood privacy fences, one painted red and the other black.
Our intersection: Check out those two beautiful 6′ wood privacy fences!

Suffice it to say, we’ve been looking forward to this fence for a long time.

But wait, project problems strike again!

Before we started on the project, we looked through the Baltimore Housing website to try to find out whether we needed a permit. After a good bit of research, we were confident we didn’t need one because we were replacing an existing fence. So we went ahead and started building.

2 days before we were finished, an old biddy driving by stops in the middle of the street. Apparently she lives next to the guy building our fence and has had it out for him for years. She immediately goes on a tirade about how ugly it is and how it’s going to make the neighborhood look like Fort Ednor (omg old people wut). Then she told him he better be working with a permit or else he’d really be in trouble.

A building inspector knocked on our door the next morning and we knew we’d been ratted on. He said that if we pulled the permit that day, there would be no problems and we could start work back up the following morning.

But when we went to the zoning office and showed them our site plan, they told us that 6′ fences aren’t allowed on street-facing yards. Apparently they have to be less than 3.5′ tall (lololwutyeahrightlol).

They said we couldn’t finish the project until we got a permit. But we would have to appeal the original decision and it could take up to 60 days to schedule a hearing.

You mean to tell me we were gonna have to stare at this for 2 months???!!!

The skeleton of a 6' wooden privacy fence that's only half-complete. Caption: "The state of our yard until we get this permit issue sorted out."

The emotional phases of finding out your beloved new fence is in jeopardy

Perhaps the most upsetting part of it was that this is so out of character for our neighborhood. One thing I love about Ednor Gardens is that neighbors are friendly, but mostly mind their own business. If you’re not doing anything dangerous or offensive, people couldn’t care less what you do with your lawn and your yard and your home. I’ve never heard of anyone getting a citation for working without a permit.

So even though I knew that we were in the wrong for not pulling the permit, the situation made me mad. 

Only 2 days away from completion, a personal vendetta that didn’t have anything to do with us threw us into a messy tangle of stupid bureaucratic red tape. AND THE WOMAN DIDN’T EVEN LIVE ON OUR STREET!!! We talked to all of our neighbors before we started building and they were all totally supportive! So now we were left without any sort of functioning fence for our dog. Our yard consists of a pile of dirt on one side and a half-finished fence on the other. And they expected us to wait around for 8 weeks before we could finish it???

If only…

I spent awhile being really angry. Then I spent awhile wistfully pondering a long list of regrets:

I wish we’d started the project sooner so that woman never would’ve driven past.

Why didn’t we think to ask our handyman whether any personal grudges might impact the timeline of our project?

If only we’d just pulled a permit from the get-go…

Then I got sick of if onlys and what ifs and I turned to Conrad. “This setback sucks, but I’m sick of wallowing so I’m gonna fix this. I refuse to let some spiteful nonagenarian stand in my way.”

So I started to think about what we could do to speed up the process. And then I started to realize hey, this could be kind of fun.

Come At Me, Zoning Department

If you know me at all, you know that I love turning righteous indignation into action.  I figured I could use a good challenge to keep my mind busy.

So I decided to make some noise. To better explain our position, I created a slideshow complete with photos of similar fences in the neighborhood. I sent it to our local councilwoman in a polite email where I explained exactly why we needed the fence. For good measure, I also included my friend who’s the President of our Neighborhood Association.

Within 2 hours she had responded, and had looped in some Important Person in the zoning department. We scheduled a meeting with this important person and he approved our permit right away. We finished the fence by the end of the week. Just look at this beauty.

Way to ruin my dramatic moment, sedan.
Panoramic photos of a 6' tall shadowbox fence made of blonde pine.

Project problems suck, but wallowing in defeat is boring. Advocating for yourself is a whole lot more satisfying.

I know my privilege as an educated white lady helped my cause. But I hope this experience gives you some tools to inspire you to fight for yourself!

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