June 19, 2019

Brewer zoning board upholds trellis decision

BREWER – After an hour-long hearing, a zoning board of appeals majority upheld the code enforcement officer’s position on a pair of trellises.

And while the bulk of the discussion revolved around whether the trellises were erected out of spite or to protect privacy, those aspects were outside the zoning board’s authority.

Brian Hamilton and Paul Noddin, who reside at 171 Wilson St., applied to the city for an administrative appeal after next-door neighbor Deborah Berry of 167 Wilson St., a member of the appeals board, put up two trellises on May 14. The trellises between her property and theirs in effect blocked two windows on one side of Noddin and Hamilton’s house.

According to documents related to the complaint, Berry installed a 9-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide trellis less than 2 feet from the neighbors’ kitchen window, and a slightly shorter trellis of the same width 2 feet from the window of Hamilton’s hair salon.

During the hearing, Hamilton argued that the code officer erred when he determined that trellises are not structures, which in his neighborhood’s high-density residential zone would require a 5-foot setback from Berry’s property line.

Hamilton said that the city’s zoning ordinance provided no clear definition of “trellis,” and in such circumstances a specific edition of Webster’s dictionary was to be consulted. In that dictionary, a trellis is defined as, among other things, “a structure of thin strips, esp. of wood, crossing each other in an open pattern of squares, etc. on which vines or other creeping plants are trained.” He further said that the trellises clearly were permanent structures, like porches, in that they were attached to posts sunk four feet into the ground.

Berry, who was not permitted to vote or participate in the board’s deliberations but did speak as an affected resident, said the trellises were erected for privacy.

She described, in colorful terms, some of the perceived privacy violations that prompted her to put up the trellises. She claimed she and her tenant had been watched, called names and harassed by “the neighbors from hell.”

David Russell, code enforcement officer, said that Berry consulted him before putting the trellises up. In his research, he said, he found nothing in the city’s zoning ordinance to prevent Berry from having a landscaping trellis anywhere she wanted on her property.

After receiving several complaints about them, however, Russell did visit Berry’s yard to inspect the trellises and found three items that needed to be addressed. He asked that she cut screws protruding from the lumber, paint the rear side of the wood and remove landscaping fabric to window ledge height to allow light to enter the neighbors’ window. He said she complied within the 10 days given her.

Tensions between the two households date to at least 1999, when Berry was involved in an effort to prohibiting a cats-only veterinary clinic from operating in Noddin and Hamilton’s house.

Noddin and Hamilton were on the verge of selling their carefully restored 1836 brick house to a Maryland couple; however, after the board of appeals ruled against allowing the clinic to operate out of the house, the sale fell through. Relations between the neighbors apparently have since worsened.

“I don’t enforce privacy issues,” Russell said. He said that privacy issues were not the basis of his decision. “My determination on the trellises stands.” After deliberating the matter, the board voted 3-1 in support of Russell’s decision.

Hamilton and Noddin have 30 days to file an appeal in Penobscot Superior Court. After the hearing, Hamilton said a decision to that end had not been made. Noddin was unable to attend Monday’s hearing.

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