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Is it really too much to expect fellow Woodhaven residents to follow the law, and for New York City agencies to enforce the law?
When it comes to illegal front-yard parking, it seems so.
Across the neighborhood, some residents and homeowners have paved over their front yards and started to park cars there, although it’s against the law.
The result is that concrete has often replaced grass, drivers have been steering their cars over sidewalks even when there are no curb cuts (or, worse still, have been illegally cutting the curbs themselves), and some of these law-breaking drivers have even tried to prevent others from parking in legal street spots that block their illegal parking pads.
Turning a front-yard lawn or garden into a concrete patch is unsightly and might lead to street flooding when rainwater can’t escape into soil. Driving a car up and over a curb where there’s no driveway is dangerous and contributes to a sense of disorder in the neighborhood. Disallowing others to park in legal spots is selfish and reduces the amount of legitimate parking in the neighborhood. Most importantly, all these actions violate the law.
I’m familiar with the objections from those who believe they should be able to do whatever they want with their homes. That, however, is not the way it works in New York City. With so many people living in proximity to each other, what one person does can have a big impact on neighbors or even the community as a whole.
When you pave over your yard, you contribute to the destruction of the character of your block. You hurt the values of nearby properties. And you worsen the problems I mentioned above. The United States might be the land of the free, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to do whatever you want without regard for your community or the law.
Unfortunately, the New York City Buildings Department—the agency with authority on this matter—has been slow to enforce the law and to take action against those who create illegal driveways, carports, or curb cuts in Woodhaven. For instance, I called in one violation and even provided photographic proof. Three months later, the Buildings Department hasn’t even gotten around to taking a look.
I know that these complaints aren’t their top priority. They should, rightly, be giving precedence to imminent public safety hazards, like the building collapse on 79th Street near Jamaica Avenue last month. That building had more than 30 outstanding construction violations.
But the fact remains that three months is an excessive wait for an initial investigation into an illegal driveway. It diminishes residents’ confidence in the authorities, it sends the message that those who violate the law will get away with it indefinitely, and it's unfair to the many residents who follow the law and take pride in maintaining their properties.
Moreover, these front-yard parking pads are often related to other, deeper problems requiring attention. For example, many homeowners create them because of a parking shortage stemming from another illicit behavior: illegal conversions that pack too many people into houses, thus straining city services as well as the stock of available parking spots. And some residents chop down street trees in front of their homes in order to make it easier to pull their cars into and out of illegal driveways, further adding to a less green, more concrete Woodhaven.
The streets of Woodhaven shouldn’t look like one big used car lot. Woodhaven residents should do the right thing, and if they don’t, the Buildings Department should step in and enforce the law.
Editor’s note: Blenkinsopp is member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhavennyc.org.