Need help with privacy fence options

Sorry up front about the long post. I'm hoping to get some advice on what to do about erecting some kind of privacy screen or fence along my back property line. I have a small lot (1/8 acre) with a 3'+ concrete retaining wall along the back edge. My neighbors' yard behind me is elevated about 3' from mine. Here is a link to some photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37849137@N00 /
These neighbors recently removed the privacy hedge (see photos) from along their back property line. From our backyard, we now have nothing between us and the back of their house, the back of their (ugly) strorage shed, and the (busy) street in front of them. The removal of this hedge has destroyed the privacy and coziness of our outdoor space.
So here are the some of the options that we've been considering, along with their respective issues and drawbacks:
Option #1: Erect an eight foot fence along our back line just in front of the retaining wall. Problems: our town puts a limit of six feet as the highest fence you can put on your property line without a variance. Getting a variance in this town is reputed to be a torturous process. I would argue that since our yard is three feet lower than the neighbor's yard, we would really only be putting up a five foot fence, but that's an argument I would have to make via the variance process. We've thought about just putting one up anyway and hoping no one notices. But then there's also the problem of finding a contractor to do the work.
Option #2: Put up a six foot fence and then extend it with some trellising, a la this method: http://www.hammerzone.com/archives/landscape/fence/extend1/lattice.htm Problems: seems like a pain and I don't really have time to do the work myself. Is this really so different from an eight foot fence that a) a contractor will agree to do it, and b) the town will look the other way?
Option #3: Offer to pay for a six foot fence on my neighbor's property.
Problems: even if they go for it, they are getting pretty old and there's no guarantee how much longer they'll be in the house. Still, I could justify the $2k for a few years of privacy. There's no guarantee we'll be in our house five years from now either.
Option #4: Put up a privacy screen of 6-8' plantings. Problems: Our backyard is so small to begin with, losing another 3-4 feet along the back line to a row of plantings would make it claustrophobic. Plus it's really expensive to buy plantings that big. Plus we both really hate arborviteas, which is the only plant that anyone seems to recommend for this kind of thing in our climate (Massachusetts).
One last question related to the fencing options: should I be concerned about negatively affecting the integrity and stability of the retaining wall if I'm digging four foot deep post holes directly in front of (or behind) it?
Thanks a ton for any feedback or suggestions, Jay L.
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My first option would be to talk to the neighbor if you haven't already, it is possible that after having the hedge removed they are just as unhappy with the view as you are. They might very well be willing to allow a 6' fence to be erected on top of the retaining wall and possibly even pay some or all of the cost. Remember, a big smile and a friendly tone can go along way when dealing with neighbors and property issues. Even if they don't want to pay anything towards the job it should be easy to convince them that it is both your and their best interest to put up the fence noting asthetics, safety (not walking off an un-protected wall) etc. My second option would be to put up an 8' fence on my side in front of the wall, as for the variance process beign difficult, I have heard that many times from people in our town but never found it to be true myself, I think people just like to believe that anything "government" is going to be difficult.
Just my .02 George
snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

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says...

Ditto on the last point - folks will bitch and piss and moan about any board decision that didn't go their way as proving the board is "difficult"; but it's amazing the number of cockamamie things a planning or zoning board has to turn down every year. Leaving a lot of cockamamie variance-seekers to run around and grouse to whomever will listen about how they were 'unfairly' treated. I know of two cases personally where the variance seekers just plain couldn't 'get' how their actions on their corner properties might have some important effects on intersection visibility and traffic safety. Then there's my ex-neighbor about a storm drain, but I digress... :)
But - something like this particular situation may well be the kind of exception a town board would be happy to make. Worth giving a try, if talking with the neighbors about the issue doesn't come up with a different solution.
Banty
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On 10 Jul 2006 07:25:51 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Build a fence to the maximum height allowed, mount window boxes to your side of it, and plant blackberries.

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jay, in looking at your pics, it appears to me that the top of the hedge was only 6' above your yard level. A six foot fence would restore the degree of privacy you had????
I concur that if you need more height than what you had, consult with the neighbor, especially about the safety issue before seeking a variance.
lee h
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Whomever owns the retaining wall now faces increased liability due to the ease with which someone can now simply WALK OFF the wall and fall into your back yard. It would be fair to ask the owner of the retaining wall to participate in the cost of erecting a suitable barrier.
Given the proper approach, I can't see it being too difficult to obtain a variance for an 8-ft fence placed against the retaining wall in the OP's yard. Such a fence would mitigate the safety hazard that now exists and enhance privacy and aesthetics for both property owners.
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:)
JR

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