Gray's dismantled fence may rise again

By Ann E. Marimow
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The black aluminum fence that once surrounded Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray's Southeast Washington home may soon rise again when the D.C. Council chairman becomes the city's chief executive in January.

After months of wrangling with the city bureaucracy - including an obscure committee whose decision pushed Gray to tear down a portion of the fence at his Hillcrest home - the mayor-elect most likely will have the last laugh - and at taxpayers' expense.

As it stands, the police department has asked the same panel, the Public Space Committee, to approve the installation of a security fence and guard booth at Gray's Branch Avenue property, according to city officials. And although the cost of the security measures was not immediately available Tuesday, the expense will be covered by the city, Assistant Chief Alfred Durham said.

"You have to have perimeter security to slow someone from gaining access to his property," said Durham, who oversees the executive protection unit. He said the unit is responsible for ensuring that the "best protection is in place for the mayor and his family."

Gray referred questions about the fence to police, declining to comment on what he has described as a frustrating seven-month saga.

"I really don't want to get into this," Gray said with a smile, suggesting an appreciation for the irony of the situation.

For months, Gray went back and forth with city regulators about his $12,600 fence, which emerged as an issue in his mayoral primary contest with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who technically oversees the Public Space Committee.

In the spring, the District Department of Transportation issued a series of $300-a-day citations to Gray because he had not completed an application for the fence, which he installed two years ago without proper permits.

In July, the committee ordered Gray to lower or move a portion of the fence because it found that the council chairman had not provided sufficient justification for exceeding the District's 31/2-foot height limit on fences built in the public right of way. Gray said the decision left him no choice but to take down a section of fencing.

At the time, Gray said he was being singled out and given the runaround by the government bureaucracy. A review of public records showed that since Fenty took office in 2007, Gray was the lone resident fined by DDOT for violating the city's height limit on fences.

City regulators first realized no permit was on file last year, after reports in the Washington Times raised questions about improvement projects at Gray's home. Gray has said he was unaware that the contractor had not filed the necessary paperwork for the fence.

During the campaign, Fenty and his supporters, including Attorney General Peter Nickles, used the fence to suggest that Gray thought he was above the law.

Before the new section of fence can be installed, the police department's application must be reviewed by the Public Space Committee. The panel, designed to protect the character of the city's neighborhoods in part by encouraging unobstructed views in public spaces, is scheduled to consider the application in late January. By that time, Gray will have taken the oath as mayor and be in position to oversee the committee's work.

The original fence was 5 feet 7 inches tall. The new section of fence would be 5 feet 4 inches.

After surveying Gray's property, Durham said police determined that it needed to be completely enclosed by a fence. Durham said the cost would be minimal because the department plans to move the guard booth and equipment from Fenty's Crestwood home to Gray's property.

Gray initially applied for an exception from the city's height limit to replace a shorter chain-link fence primarily for aesthetic reasons. According to DDOT spokesman Karyn LeBlanc, the application filed Nov. 26 says, "the security needs and requirements will change significantly" at Gray's address.

When asked whether he thought the Public Space Committee would sign off on plans to rebuild the fence, Durham said, "For the mayor's safety, I hope so."

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