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Former city official selling his home with its famous fence

How do you put a price on the most famous fence in St. Petersburg?

Former City Council member James W. Martin took on City Hall for more than a year. He finally won the right to keep a 3-foot-tall picket fence and several pine trees, and along the way wound up a reluctant poster boy for challenging bureaucratic red tape.

Now, just seven months after the white picket fence returned to its original stature, Martin is ready to move. On Tuesday, the for-sale signs appeared outside the 1922 two-story Colonial revival home at 101 Ninth Ave. NE. Asking price: $695,000.

"We're going into a real marketing program on this wonderful home," said real estate agent Cary Bond Thomas, who has the exclusive listing with Tourtelot Brothers Inc. "Being a large home in the Old Northeast, there is a definite buyer for that."

Martin, a 46-year-old lawyer, said he only decided to put the 5,000-square-foot home on the market a couple of weeks ago, after completing a new paint job and sprucing up. The decision had nothing to do with his battles with City Hall, he said, but rather is a logical "downsizing."

His youngest son just graduated from college, and his former wife, Lynda, recently moved to Pennsylvania. Their divorce in February also had nothing to do with his lengthy fight, he said. "If anything, it united us."

Martin said he plans to remain within the city limits. And after his experience with city leaders, he is considering running for mayor next year. He may not enjoy the picket fence for long, but the fight, he said, was worth it.

"It was never so much about the fence as it was the principles involved," he said. "At the time I filed the lawsuit I considered, "Could I sleep 20 years from now if I don't pursue this?' "

Designed by Henry Dupont, the same architect responsible for the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa, the home was divided into apartments when the Martins bought it in 1979. They restored it to its historic origins using the 1922 blueprints.

The Martins' renovations ran into trouble in 1994 as they moved ahead with plans to erect a 3-foot tall white fence and plant several pines. City regulators initially approved and issued permits for the fence and trees, but later determined they illegally blocked visibility at the intersection.

After the city started to pursue criminal charges, Martin appeased city regulators by taking a chainsaw to the top 12 inches of the fence and cutting down two of the trees.

A lawsuit followed, along with a big public relations headache for city officials. After more than a year, the city settled the case by reconfiguring the intersection at First Street and Ninth Avenue NE and letting Martin put back his fence and trees.

The next property owner apparently won't need to worry about the city cracking down on the fence and trees.

"It's been deemed legal the way it currently sits and the way the intersection has been configured," said Planning Director Ralph Stone.