GILMANTON — A controversy has erupted between a property owner in the Historic District who wants to leave the jurisdiction and the Historic District Commission that not only wants them to stay but to abide by the rules.
One of those who wishes to leave is Craig Gardner of 533 Meetinghouse Road who has obtained the necessary 25 signatures to have his request voted on by the electorate on March 10, which is town election day.
Gardner's offense was erecting an enclosure surrounded by a six-foot white vinyl fence off the the side of his freestanding garage so his two dogs can go outside.
According to former commission member George Roberts, fences above four feet tall and not made in materials contained in the original house on Meeting House Road must be authorized by the Historic District before they can be built.
"He knew he needed an approval but he did it anyway," Roberts said in a phone conversation last week.
"When he finally came before the Historic District Commission, he was told that he had to take it down. "It's an industrial strength fence," Roberts said.
Roberts described it as a massive addition that is not in keeping with the time period of 1820 to 1830s or the later part of the Federal Period. He said a year has gone by since the fence went up and Gardner hasn't removed it, despite being requested to by the commission.
Roberts said that if anyone disagrees with the rules they are more that welcome to ask for a policy change. His real objection is when people who live in the Historic District and are told about its rules before they buy, do something without asking for approval, knowing they need it.
Gardner said he was told he was moving into the Historic District and was made somewhat aware of the restrictions.
He said he installed the fence himself and acknowledged that it is vinyl and is six-feet tall, covering about 50- to 60-feet over three sides.
He said his house was build in 1976, has a skylight and no wood windows — just like any other 1970's era modern-day ranch house. He said the Historic District's rules says that homes must use the same materials used when the house was build.
"I have vinyl windows," he said.
He noted his hose sits back about 1,000 yards from the road and his fence cannot be seen from the Smith Meeting House.
"(The Commission) has a problem with height and materials," he said.
Gardner's real reason he wants to leave is that he thinks the Historical District Commission applies its rules and regulations inconsistently and the people who serve on it drive their own rules for the length of their individual terms.
"When the district was recognized parcels were bigger and there were different rules," he said.
He said they allowed stockade fences then and they still do. "I guess I could have built a stockade fence." he said.
In his opinion, and after doing exhaustive research of the commission's minutes, he said the members have become more restrictive and more conservative.
Gardner said this is the first time he's lived east of the Mississippi and for the past 40 years lived in Tok, Alaska.
"I am not trying to change the district into what I used to know," he said. "I understand restrictions but there are still property rights and they've (the commissioners) have gone beyond their original mandate."
The Selectboard's representative to the Historic District Commission, Brett Currier, said yesterday he abstained from voting when the commission made it's decision to have Gardner take down the fence.
He said Commissioners Deb Chase and Allen Everett voted in favor of having Gardner remove the fence. He said he abstained because as a selectmen he's supposed to uphold existing rule but in this case he didn't agree with the rule.
Currier said he personally supports Gardner's fence because it's neat, it's clean, it serves a purpose and it's made from the same vinyl from which his windows are made.
"In this case I think the Historic District has gone overboard," he said.
He said he could almost see it both ways however he agrees with Gardner in his assertion that the rules of the Historic District are somewhat arbitrary and not uniform in their enforcement.
Currier and 25 other residents, many of them from Meetinghouse Road, signed Gardner's petition to leave the district.
At the most recent Planning Board meeting, the members voted against supporting Gardener's petitioned warrant article.
CUTLINE: Craig Gardner's fence off his garage has become a focal point for disharmony in the Gilmanton Historical District. He is petitioning the town's voters at annual town meeting to leave the district so the fence can stay. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)