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Fence case ends suddenly when applicant walks out

Charles Burch shows Zoning Board of Adjustment members a fence he wants to install on his property in upper Laurel Park. Charles Burch shows Zoning Board of Adjustment members a fence he wants to install on his property in upper Laurel Park.

LAUREL PARK — The Laurel Park Zoning Board of Adjustment, which usually labors in obscurity, had a doozie of a time last week.
A hearing on a variance request was abruptly cut short when the applicant stalked out. That brought a sigh of relief from the 35 people who filled the Town Hall’s small meeting room beyond capacity, although the case might not be over yet.
At issue was an application from Charles Burch, a homeowner who has upset many of his neighbors with his landscaping practices and tree cutting zeal. Burch asked for a variance that would allow him to surround his 2½-acre home site in upper Laurel Park with a high-tensile wire fence, a material that’s not among the permissible materials in the town’s land-use code. The code allows fences up to 6 feet high made of stone, wood or plastic-simulating wood, with chain-link fences permitted in backyards.
Burch landscaped a tall steep terrace on his property at Laurel Park and Birchwood Drive and has cut down trees on the land. He told the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Thursday that deer are romping in his yard, tearing up the St. John’s wort and causing erosion. He’s put in 3,900 St. John’s wort plants on the terrace and, valuing them at $10 each including labor, watering and fertilizer, said he had a $39,000 investment in the Laurel Park Highway frontage. He applied for a variance to allow four strands of 12½-gauge wire tightly strung between black pipes two-and-three-eighths inch thick.
Asked why he needed a wire fence instead of wood or stone, he cited the price.
“My price drops from probably $50,000 to something I can afford,” he said.

“You took all the vegetation off and put your own plants there,” said Jim Ball, a former town manager. “I kind of feel like you helped create your own problem.”
Susan Mangrum, Burch’s next door neighbor, opposed the variance.

“I’m not terribly comfortable being here and speaking against Mr. Burge, not because I’m not comfortable with public speaking but because I have a problem with Mr. Burge’s vile temper,” she said. “I am concerned that by opposing the fence I may be the target of retaliation. Mr. Burge has made threats to other people about me.”
She said he had cut down more than 100 trees, replaced native plants and made other changes that have devalued her property.
“The whole ecological system of that part of the mountain has been harmed by his complete disregard of the ecology and the environment,” she said. “He put a porta-potty by my mailbox because it was ugly and he didn’t want to look at it but it was OK for me to look at it.”

After huddling with Town Manager Alison Alexander, board Chair John Crook announced there was no point in continuing the hearing because the city code requires the applicant to be present.
“I would rule that the applicant has withdrawn his application by virtue of his departure,” Crook said.
Reached after the hearing, Burch said he did not see the point in staying.
“There was no sense of me staying there,” he said. “I think people have their mind made up before I started speaking.”