What happened to The Fence?

Jessica Pierce

It was all going to be so nice, and now it’s a mess.

Uprooted and piled forlornly in the snow around Valentown Museum is 500 feet of antique-style fencing that for a few months had lined High Street alongside the museum. It was supposed to replicate a fence along the very same stretch back when Valentown emporium was in its 19th century heyday.

 What happened?

“There is obviously a misunderstanding that caused this situation to occur,” said Gary Lehmann, a member of the Victor Historical Society’s Board of Directors. 

He and several other volunteers spent a freezing, snowy Dec. 2 taking down the fence and piling the wood elsewhere on the property. What was the mood? “I think we were nose-to-the-grindstone get-the-job-done-and-don’t-think-about-it-because-we’d-really-get ticked-off,” said Carol Finch, head of the historical society, which runs Valentown. 

The day before, at the society’s annual volunteer-recognition dinner at the Presbyterian church, Finch thanked the organization’s many volunteers for their hard work — and then asked them to come back the next day and help remove the fence.

The order had come from Town Hall the week before: The fence had to come down since it was in the town right-of-way and blocked a fire hydrant.

“The town has the right to use that area,” explained town code enforcer Al Benedict. “Part of that is for snow removal, part of it is if the town ever needed to widen the road at some point.”

After all, the town plans to overhaul High Street in the next few years because of the ever-growing traffic off Route 96. Still more changes could come as the High Point housing/office/retail project continues to go up near the Valentown grounds. Developer Fred Rainaldi has agreed to make changes to the road on an as-needed basis.

The fence was put up over the course of several weeks, starting early last summer. Through an inside connection, the historical society got a good price — about $4,000 — on the split rails and posts, Finch said. All told, it took at least 100 volunteer hours to put it up, starting with the lengthy section along Valentown Road.

The section of fence that went up on High Street was the last to go up, late in the summer. That’s when the trouble started.

Finch was told by town officials that someone who wished to remain anonymous had pointed out that it was in the right-of-way. The town sent the society a notice ordering that that section of fence be removed.

Some of the volunteers were irked, especially since, as far as they understood it, the society was careful to go over the plans with the town and see if any special permits were needed before the fence went up.

“Why didn’t they come to us earlier in the process?” wondered longtime volunteer Kathryn White of Greece.

Lehmann blames it on a communication breakdown. “We had consulted with the town Building Department and had gotten their advice,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t understand properly, and they didn’t articulate properly. In all of that mix, we put up a fence, and it turned out to be in violation.”

After the town sent the notice in September, the society met with the town’s fire marshal and agreed to make the blocked hydrant accessible. Discussions were held with town officials about where the right-of-way boundaries are, Finch said. “That process took about two months — the going back and forth and getting it straightened out,” she said.

The ordeal wound up on the agenda at the Town Board’s late-November meeting. Lehmann offered the society’s take at the podium, and in the end, the board ruled against the fence, citing concerns over safety and liability.

Benedict explained the liability bit: Since the town’s zoning code “specifically states you can’t put fences in right-of-ways, if you allowed the fence to remain there, now the town is allowing someone to violate town code,” he said. That said, “If somebody were to go off that curb and hit the (fence) with their vehicle, the question is now, ‘Is the town liable for allowing that?’” he added.

The society is once more working with the town to try and figure out exactly where the fence can go. When that’s determined, Finch said the Board of Directors will probably hire an outside company to do the work, since it wouldn’t feel right asking the volunteers to do it.

“It was a huge, hard, hot, sweaty job that women, children and old people had to help with, and it taxed everybody to do it the first time,” Finch said. “Out of their love of the property, they did. I don’t think we want to ask them to go through that physical torture again.”

Jessica Pierce can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 250, or at