Historic commission OKs non-compliant fence

AMHERST – After grappling for almost an hour with the issue of vinyl fencing installed

in front of a vinyl-sided house, the town’s Historic District Commission voted to allow the fence to stay.

At their Dec. 20 meeting, Lizabeth Auth told the commission she bought the house on Boston Post Road at foreclosure and installed the fence not realizing the property is in the Historic District.

Member Christopher Hall seemed to sum up the commission’s dilemma when he noted that putting in a wooden fence wouldn’t be wise from anyone’s standpoint, given the materials available today. Also, the house is not prominent and it doesn’t have a lot of history behind it

“I don’t think any of us want to ask this lady to take the fence down,” he said. “But we don’t want to approve something” that violates what is a “pretty cut and dried” regulation.

Chairman Jamie Ramsay said the fence material works well with the appearance of the house, though others said the sheen of vinyl is objectionable.

“It puts us in a difficult and compromising situation,” he said. “I don’t want to ride roughshod over our regulations, and the decision “is in no way a precedent.”

In his motion to give the fence conditional approval, Hall said the non-compliant material should be allowed for several reasons: the house is already out of compliance, a fence is needed for safety and it is in keeping with the house’s style and there is an underground stream that causes natural materials to rot faster. The implications for the homeowner of having to remove the fence is another reason, he said, even though the commission is not supposed to consider finances.

Member Doug Chabinsky was the only dissenter.

Ramsay said the commission was not condoning the fencing.

“This is a violation, and we’ve offered great latitude to a homeowner who is doing a great job with the property,” he said, stressing that he doesn’t want Amherst to go the way of other New Hampshire towns with beautiful homes and public buildings, but where “vinyl siding is becoming so common.”

A nurse and single mother, Auth said that when she bought the 1936 Sears bungalow it was unlivable and its wood fencing was falling down, and she had the new fence match the house’s siding.

If she had known her house was in the historic district, she said, “I wouldn’t have spent $6,000 without speaking to the commission,” and suggested it let new homeowners know about the regulations.

At their next meeting in January the commission will talk about sending out a “welcome to the historic district” letter to new homeowners.

The commission was established in 1970 and the regulations were adopted in 1991 “to support the preservation and enhancement of historical sites, buildings, landscapes, and structures, and the surrounding environment within the Amherst Village Historic District.”

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.