- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

D.C. officials have told council Chairman Vincent C. Gray that he did not comply with city regulations and should have applied for permits this summer for electrical work at his house that was overseen by W. Christopher Smith Jr., his friend and a politically connected developer.

In a Dec. 4 letter, Lennox Douglas, chief of permits for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, gave Mr. Gray 10 days to obtain the proper permits and have the work inspected or be fined.

The letter further directs Mr. Gray to disclose information about a 6-foot-high iron fence and a garage door that, according to photographs obtained by The Washington Times, have been installed in the past several years.

“We have no records of any permits for these projects or any others at your address,” Mr. Douglas wrote of the garage door and fence, which lines the perimeter of Mr. Gray’s 12,000-square-foot corner lot in the Hillcrest section of Southeast Washington.

After The Times reported in November that Mr. Smith’s company, WCS Construction, oversaw home improvements at the Gray residence, Mr. Gray released invoices to reporters that detailed the electrical work performed by WCS’ subcontractors. He said he did not receive favors from Mr. Smith, chief executive officer of William C. Smith & Co., which has $300 million in projects east of the Anacostia River alone.

The letter, addressed to Mr. Gray at his home, states that the news reports “appear to have been corroborated by invoices you produced” and that DCRA “requires building permits for the work described” in those invoices.

Mr. Gray has said that he turned to Mr. Smith for home improvement services because of a personal relationship that dates to the 1990s. DCRA records indicate that WCS and two of its subcontractors were not licensed for home improvement in July and August, when the work was performed.

Mr. Gray also has insisted that Mr. Smith’s company “had nothing to do” with the installation of a black iron fence that does not appear in 2001 and 2002 photos posted on the Hillcrest Community Civic Association Web site, www.hillcrestdc.com.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gray said, “The Chairman will respond to DCRA’s letter,” but she declined to disclose who installed his fence and garage door.

Regardless of whether Mr. Smith was involved with either of those projects, specialists in the fence business say there could be a problem at Mr. Gray’s residence.

Chris Bucca, a residential manager and sales estimator at Long Fence Co., a well-established Washington-area fence company, said the District has strict height and setback requirements for fences that front a residential lot.

“You can’t have a fence in the front that is higher than 42 inches,” said the 28-year company employee. “D.C. won’t easily grant such a permit. A 6-foot fence on a corner lot without a permit is a no-no.”

In an April 2008 article in the DCRA Dispatch newsletter titled “Sprucing Up Your Yard This Spring? If plans include replacing or putting up a new fence, you need a permit,” the regulations state that “in general, the maximum height of a fence in a residential zone is seven feet on the side and rear of a property and 42 inches in the front.”

As for the cost of such a project, Mr. Bucca said, a 6-foot-high fence on a lot roughly the size of Mr. Gray’s could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $49,000, depending on the quality of materials.

“You’ve got to dig holes, set posts, measure the grade and slope,” he said. Of the stone posts at the head of the driveway, Mr. Bucca said: “Those require permits too.”

Mr. Bucca added, “If Long Fence put up a fence like that without a permit, DCRA would slap us and the property owner with fines. They don’t fool around.”

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