Much Ado About a Fence

Manhattan Heights couple takes battle over their fence to city council

POSTED: 09:24 AM MDT Sep 18, 2013    UPDATED: 06:44 PM MST Feb 09, 2015 
EL PASO, Texas -

The plan of an El Paso couple to have a backyard wedding with a fenced-in altar was nearly scrapped.
Rachel Carver and fiancée Army Captain James Moreno bought a home in Manhattan Heights, one of the city’s historically designated neighborhoods, last fall.
The couple has been making improvements on the historic house over the past year, where they plan to have their wedding in November.
“We’re not planning on doing a whole lot with this back space, but it also provides a nice barrier for our neighbors for the wedding.” Carver said as she pointed out the part of the couple’s backyard now surrounded by a tall wooden fence. “One hundred people in a backyard isn’t exactly a small feat, you know? So it’s a courtesy to them as well.”
The couple approached the city’s historic preservation office before building the fence.
The city turned the case over to the Historic Landmark Commission for review.
The HLC voted 4-3 to deny the request to build the fence, then the city’s HPO recommended denial of the fence, but by that time the fence had already been built.
Capt. Moreno said he contacted the City and explained the couple was on a tight deadline to get things ready for their wedding.
He says he submitted the required information to the city’s historic preservation officer, Providencia Velasquez for direction.
Capt. Moreno says when Velasquez did not respond for days he made the decision to proceed with the construction of the fence, as a work crew had already been scheduled to do the work in advance.
The Monday following the weekend the fence was constructed, Velasquez responded, Capt. Moreno said.
Capt. Moreno and Carver, both of whom are also attorneys, say city guidelines state the HPO must respond within 24 hours to a request, though Velasquez says that is an incorrect interpretation of the guidelines.
The case was brought before city council on Tuesday.
City Representative Eddie Holguin criticized Velasquez for not responding quickly enough.
While pleading the couple’s case, Capt. Moreno showed photos of other historic homes in the neighborhood that also have wooden fences, as well as a petition signed by the couple’s immediate neighbors, asking city council to grant an appeal.
Other residents of Manhattan Heights showed up to protest the fence and one neighbor read a letter from the neighborhood association’s president.
“The problem lies in the precedent that has been set in some individual[s’] minds just do it and deal with it later as even if the HLC does not approve it City Council will, or simply turn a blind eye to it,” read a letter by Manhattan Heights Association president Craig Peters.
“If you all approve this fence, and again it’s a small fence, but if you do this, you’re basically setting the president for others in the neighborhood to change the face of the neighborhood,” Manhattan Heights resident Elizabeth Williams said.
City council unanimously agreed to grant the couple’s appeal to keep the fence to the dismay of some of the resident’s and Velasquez.
“The law is the law, is the law,” Velasquez said. “We’re here to enforce it and we ask that everyone follow it, and we try to treat everyone equally. And when one person doesn’t do it, then it sets a bad example for everyone else.”
Capt. Moreno and Carver said they wished their plans for a pretty backyard wedding had not come to this point.
They say they will attend the next neighborhood association meeting to smooth things over with some of the members of the neighborhood association, but Carver said the neighbors who live close to their home, the ones they see on a daily basis, have already given their support.