Community board chairman demands curb cut crackdown

Says city should fix curb, then bill homeowner

September 30, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Bill Guarinello wants homeowners who install illegal curb cuts to be hit by the city where it hurts: in the pocketbook.

Guarinello, chairman of Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst, has an outside-the-box idea on how the city could crack down on illegal curb cuts in his neighborhood and elsewhere. “The same way the city fixes a sidewalk that’s in violation and then sends a bill to the homeowner, the city should fix the curb and then bill the homeowner,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Guarinello recently announced that he is organizing a task force to look into solutions to the curb cut problem and said his idea to step up enforcement would be discussed by the new panel. He has reached out to leaders of Community Board 10 in Bay Ridge to join the task force. Both Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge have seen an increase in the number of illegal curb cuts over the years, he said.

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“Here’s my dilemma. The city goes after homeowners for a crack in the sidewalk, why not curb cuts?” he asked.

A curb cut is a break in the curb that allows access from the street and across the sidewalk to a legal parking space within the property line.

The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) regularly inspects sidewalks to ensure that they do not contain cracks, holes or other trip hazards. If a violation is found, the homeowner is notified and is granted 45 days to repair the sidewalk. If the homeowner ignores the notice, DOT comes in, repairs the sidewalk to remove the violation and then sends the bill to the homeowner.

Guarinello said the city should do the same thing to homeowners who put in curb cuts where they don’t belong.

Curb cuts are a sensitive issue in many communities across Brooklyn because they take away on-street parking spaces. Many homeowners seek to install them in order to create driveways next to their houses and have permanent parking spaces, eliminating the need for them to hunt for a spot on the street.

Homeowners are required to obtain a permit from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) before installing the curb cut.

But not every permit request is granted by DOB. For example, a curb cut cannot go in too close to a fire hydrant, a tree, or a utility pole and a homeowner cannot install a curb cut if the house is located close to an intersection where a car coming in and out of a driveway would interfere with oncoming traffic.

“If you have been denied a curb cut, there is a reason,” said Community Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia. “It might be because there isn’t enough clearance from the house to the property line,” she told the Eagle.

The problem, according to Guarinello and Elias-Pavia, is that many homeowners ignore the city’s wishes and put in the curb cut anyway. Those homeowners found to be in violation are subject to fines of $2,500. The violations are issued by DOB.

Why would a homeowner put in a curb cut when he knows it’s illegal?

“They do it to create car ports for themselves,” Guarinello said. “And people don’t think the violation is that big a deal,” he said.

Often, the violation remains on the books with no further penalty, until the homeowner is selling the house and it comes up during the title search. But that could be years down the road. In the meantime, the illegal curb cut stays.

“The result is that you have a car parked in an area that’s not a real driveway and it just looks bad. I think it’s cutting the quality of life of the neighborhood,” Guarinello said.

“The illegal curb cuts take away so many parking spaces, it’s ridiculous. If you go to 75th Street between 13th and 14th Avenues, there are only about six spaces for the general public on that whole block. And that’s a long block near a commercial zone,” he said, referring to the 13th Avenue shopping strip.

Homeowners who deliberately ignore the law should have to pay a penalty, he said.

Elias-Pavia said that the mayoral election makes this the right time to suggest such a change. “We are coming to a new administration. It’s important for new ideas to be presented,” she said.

A spokeswoman for DOB referred a reporter to DOT. Nicholas Mousquera, a DOT spokesman, said the agency already does correct illegal curb cuts. “As part of routine sidewalk inspections, DOT will remove curb cuts that are determined to be unauthorirzed,” he wrote to a reporter in an email.

Eliias-Pavia expressed skeptism, however. “I’ve never known DOB and DOT to work that closely together. And DOT would have to get the list of illegal curb cuts rom DOB,” she said.

***Article was updated to include comments from the Dept. of Transportation spokesman***



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