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Dispute about Burbank home's fence raises concerns

This is the curious case of a fence that made bad neighbors, or so it seemed Tuesday night during the Burbank City Council meeting where Linda Mosher, a resident of Naomi Street, raised concerns about a fence of solid block and wood slats on her neighbor's property.

Mosher was appealing a decision by the Planning Board, which authorized a minor exception to the city's code to allow the roughly 5-foot-tall fence. She complained about its height and the fact that it was not "open" enough for visibility by emergency personnel, as well as the size, scale and aesthetics of the charcoal gray and stained-wood structure.

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The curious part is Mosher built the fence when she owned the property around 2002. She began complaining a few years ago when a "house flipper" replaced a wrought-iron portion of the structure with stained wood slats, which she said was done without a permit.

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However, it gets more curious. Mosher doesn't seem to have gotten a permit when she built the wall, either.

And, a city official said, if Mosher had gotten a permit, the new homeowner wouldn't have needed to get an exception for the height of the wall, which the city conditionally approved in July.

The City Council this week unanimously denied Mosher's second appeal of that approval, but amended one condition of approval to give the homeowner more flexibility.

The peculiar case raised questions about whether the city's complaint-based code enforcement process was being abused, according to a local real estate official.

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Diana Rosero, the real estate broker for the homeowner, said Mosher's complaints and appeals of city rulings are part of a personal issue, brought about because she had unsuccessfully attempted to buy back her former home.

"When ordinances are used for personal matters, it really damages our system," Rosero said. "I think that there's just something fundamentally wrong with the process that we've had to endure."

However, Mosher said there are no "sour grapes" and that she never made a bid on the house, though she had been prepared to do so. The issue, she said, is that a code-compliant fence had been replaced with one that wasn't.

Christina Michaelis, an assistant planner with the city, said Friday that it's not clear the fence was code-compliant because it limits visibility near the driveway and road.

The city's Planning Board in September denied Mosher's appeal of the city's conditional approval of the fence, which required some changes, including work to modify a section of the fence near the driveway to improve visibility near the driveway and road.

Mosher appealed that decision to the City Council, complaining about more than the fence, including the color of the house — Rosero called it charcoal, but Mosher said it is black — and the new owner's removal of rose bushes and trimming of a 60-year-old tree.

"It's scorched earth over there," Mosher said.

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Aside from the complaints and appeals by Mosher, the city had only received emails from the public in favor of the fence, Michaelis said.

In emails to the city, one neighbor described the yard at the duplex where Mosher lives as trash strewn and "like a dirty perpetual yard sale" with a likely rat infestation.

Rosero said the fence was made solid so the home's inhabitants wouldn't have to view Mosher's current residence across the street.

For Stephanie Gagne, the homeowner, the roughly two-year fight over the fence was a poor welcome to Burbank, but she told the council she hopes to "start living a normal life."

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Chad Garland, chad.garland@latimes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland

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