Joe Fiocchi wants to create a t-shirt.
On the front, it would say “Public Enemy No. 1.”
On the back, he said: “Citizen of the Year.”
The impetus for the shirt: a fence, a lot of questions and a 2-2 vote at last month.
Fiocchi, 73, erected 24 extra feet of fence than he was permitted at his home at 469 Commerce Street in Havre de Grace. He then requested the city to allow the extra 24 feet, which juts onto city right-of-way along Union Avenue.
But at the , with the mayor not in attendance and two council members removed from voting, a split decision among the other four elected officials meant Fiocchi would have to tear down the fence.
The fence he built by hand.
The fence that has drawn praise from out-of-state visitors.
The fence that rings the immaculate waterview home that was .
The fence that keeps his home secure during busy city events—like the .
The fence that keeps Sylvester, Joe and Elaine Fiocchi’s 14-year-old yellow laborador, from wandering two of the city’s busier streets.
In a recent interview with on the decades-old path inside the fence, Fiocchi said he’ll abide by the ruling—but not without fighting for fairness.
“If they want me to take the fence down, naturally I have to take the fence down,” Joe Fiocchi said. “If that is the law, I have to abide by the law. The outcome I’d like to see is that everybody is treated fairly and the same. That’s all. I don’t like the favoritism. It’s not what people want or need, and it’s basically wrong.”
Fiocchi feels that because he questioned the city’s revitilization and development (RAD) revolving loan process —Mary Martin, the previous owner of the Fiocchi's home and the sister of then-City Council President —that he has become “Public Enemy No. 1” to many elected officials and city staff.
In a vote on June 18, the after-the-fact amendment to Fiocchi’s fence permit was denied by a 2-2 vote. Martin recused himself, citing a pending legal matter involving the Fiocchis and his sister.
and voted to allow the fence to stand. voted against, citing the potential of setting a precedent for other residents to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. voted against, saying he would have supported the issue if the fence was two feet beyond what was permitted, but that 24 feet was too much for his liking.
, filling in for absent , did not render a vote as the acting mayor.
Fiocchi contested Martin’s statements that he and Martin’s sister are involved a legal matter, demanding a re-vote.
"You can’t get by with a lie," Fiocchi said at the meeting. "Show me where the lawsuit is."
Former Councilman also spoke against the City Council’s actions, noting that the fence—initially recommende for approval by the planning committee in April—was repeatedly dropped from the agenda.
“I want to congratulate the council tonight. That was very well played the way you did that to kill that vote,” Miller said. “Five meetings ago, the fence was supposed to come up. Five meetings ago, the council was made up of a completely different group.”
Fiocchi said he’s maintained approximately one-third of an acre of the city right-of-way, which is more than 100 feet along most of Union Avenue—a state road.
The Fiocchi’s garden is on the city right of way. At the corner of the property, a grove of trees at Union Avenue and Giles Street serves as a small respite from the city lawn that Fiocchi mows and maintains.
“I thought, this path has been here for 65 years. These trees have been here for 65 years. So I put in this 24 feet. Incidentally, from that post to that street, I maintain this,” Fiocchi said.
Now, the fence bears a sarcastic sign reading “24 feet." Outside the hedge, a copy of the letter sent from the city’s planning department to Fiocchi is displayed.
In the past, the city has often permitted fences to remain on city right-of-way after they are constructed.
One city source said such instances are common. Among noteworthy property improvements in the last decade where permits weren't adhered to:
- A fence along Congress Avenue was built before permit was issued.
- A permit was never required for a fence along Bourbon Street.
- A Market Street fence was permitted, but an addition to a building was constructed, instead.
Understanding he had wronged, Fiocchi had a letter of petition presented to neighbors. Some 140 signed it, saying they were in favor of keeping the fence in place.
Fiocchi stopped circulating the petition after reading , then-council president and running for re-election, said: “I will always vote the most liberal approach to zoning. What I mean by that is, there’s never been a fence I haven’t voted for or a driveway I haven’t approved, because my theory has always been, if we make you shovel it and make you cut it, you may put a fence there with the proper license agreement."
Fiocchi’s permit allowed for the fence that was built—save for the 24-foot stretch that runs from an area near Sylvester’s posh doghouse toward the tree-lined Union Avenue.
That section would be the portion removed if the city and Fiocchi can’t come to a compromise in the meantime.
As of this week, the city had not made an attempt to compromise, Fiocchi said. In an email Friday to , the city’s planning department confirmed the fence would have to come down as of July 21.
Other residents of the Commerce Street area of town think the Fiocchis have done a fine job of improving one of the more visible corners in the city.
Neighbor John Vanderhoff said: “They've taken this place, and returned it to some grandeur. If you go by the place, it's outstanding. I think Havre de Grace should be proud to have people that make that property look like that, and not stand in the way of something, which is, I think, so insignificant.”
Joe Fiocchi wants the fairness to match the potential he sees in his city
“We could have a world class city. We’ve got more than St. Michael’s, MD right here. Look at it,” he said, pointing to the view beyond Tydings Park. “But as long as the thinking is: take care of our friends, and we’ll screw our enemies, this is what we’ll have. We’ll have stuff like this. I don’t think its right and I cannot back off. Where do I take it from there?”
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