Issue: September 2006
From the Editor: Fences, Neighbors, Etc.



B: They're ugly. The fences, I mean. Really ugly. They turn yards into bleak little dog pounds. They turn neighborhoods into stalags. They're awful. A blight on the landscape. And did I mention they leave scars?

Imagine my horror, then, when I heard - just a few days ago, as we began to put the finishing touches on this issue - that the man who owns lovely little Dobbins Island, one David Clickner, was putting up 1,200 feet of chain-link fence on the island's leeward beach. Gaak! I said. Not Dobbins Island! Not that picturesque crescent of sandy beaches and tree-capped bluffs just off the Magothy River in Sillery Bay! Not that splendid hidey-hole that has attracted boaters every summer weekend for decades and was the first anchorage of my first and most idyllic sailing experience! Gaak! I said again.

And then, after leaping into action - dispatching a photographer to the scene and getting senior editor John Reistrup started on an, in-depth investigative caption (it's all we had time for) - I was relieved to find out that it is not in fact a chain-link fence. It is what is most commonly called a post-and-chain fence. It's a somewhat taller version of what you might see around the parking lot at a state park - thick timbers placed 10 or 12 feet apart and strung together with a heavy steel chain. Not exactly a Martha Stewart solution, but not hideous either. Not the mean-spirited, industrial ugly of a chain-link fence.

Granted, that's all in the eye of the beholder, and there are more than a few beholders who consider the Dobbins Island fence not just aesthetically offensive, but civically so. It looks like it's built to stop the D-Day invasion, says Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association (MRA) - and, more to the association's main concern, it goes against decades of recreational tradition. Private property or not, Spadaro told the Washington Post, the island has been a "de facto park" for generations of boaters and locals.

Now, of course, the matter is headed to court, where the MRA will challenge Clickner's placement of the fence, arguing that his calculation of the mean high-water line (the limit of his property under law) is inaccurate and unduly restricts public access to the beach. Clickner insists the fence is properly placed and will no doubt argue that he has every right to restrict access to the island, notwithstanding the absentee hospitality of previous owners - which, many say, goes back to the Dobbinses themselves.

It's a fascinating matter, and one we'll cover in future issues, in our usual thorough and objective fashion. Unless there are chain-link fences involved. Those I can't be objective about. Don't like 'em, never will.