She called it art. A neighbor called foul. Now the Village of Lancaster is calling on the judicial system to sort out the controversy over the flowered fence.
Zoe Ann Ryan said she decided to do something a bit different with the stockade fence surrounding her yard on quiet, tree-lined Harvey Drive. So, over the summer, she had an artistic friend paint sunflowers on the section of fencing along her back lot line.
The problem? The mural faces her neighbor's property, not her own.
The result? Ms. Ryan will appear in Village Court this month to defend her sunflowers against a new village law -- passed by the Village Board after she had completed the painting -- that says residents must paint their fences uniformly.
"It's art," Ms. Ryan said bluntly. "It was like a swamp back there, so I built it up and put down topsoil and painted it with the flowers. It's so wet you can't grow real flowers back there."
Daniel Baccari, the village's code enforcement officer, said the law mandates that fences be painted the same color all over. It doesn't prohibit designs, he said, as long as they cover the whole fence.
"The fence has to be uniform in color -- that means if you want to paint one side a color, you have to paint it that way on all of it. It doesn't mean you can't do it at all," Baccari said.
In court, Ms. Ryan said she will argue that she is in compliance with the law since she painted some sunflowers on the inside of her back fence after the village ordinance took effect Aug. 18. But she doesn't want to paint the whole fence surrounding her property that way, she said.
"They said we have to do the whole thing," she said. "Originally, I had called and asked them if there were any ordinances about what I could paint on my fence, and they said there were none. Now they're changing the law."
Myra E. Ryan, who lives with her daughter, said that the mural preceded the law, so it should be immune to retroactive enforcement. "Our argument is, it's grandfathered in," she said. "In Cheektowaga, when they passed that law that you could only have three dogs, they didn't make people shoot their fourth dog."
Those arguments won't stand up in court, village officials say.
"She (Ms. Ryan) is trying to find a loophole," said Village Trustee Andrew Hurley, who fielded the first complaint about the fence and helped to draft the law. "She's more concerned with finding a loophole than with understanding the spirit of the thing. . . . We have a responsibility to protect the rights of the majority of the citizens of Lancaster.
"If she's so committed to this as artwork, why is she stopping with her fence? Why doesn't she paint her whole house that way?" he asked.
Ron Snyder, building inspector for the Town of Alden, said his department faced the same type of problem several years ago and solved it the same way. In 1990, the town added a special law to building codes that mandated both sides of fences be painted the same color.
"It's a law. You have to comply with it -- it's as simple as that," Baccari said.
However, he said, the case of the sunflower fence marks the first time it has invoked the new law. For her part, Ms. Ryan said she intends to fight for her fence, with the help of a lawyer, during her Oct. 14 court appearance.
But in the meantime, it seems there's at least one feeling that both she and village officials share: frustration.
"It's unfortunate that we have to spend our time dealing with these petty matters," Trustee Hurley said.
"There are real issues that we have to deal with in Lancaster," Ms. Ryan said. "Like our school budget that didn't pass. But it's like, no, let's make a big deal out of this."