Homeowners have turned their Carroll Gardens block into a “trailer park” by illegally using their front yards as parking spaces — and the city says it will finally crackdown on the brazen practice.
Fourth Place between Smith and Court streets has become the wild west of inappropriate use of the very front gardens that give the neighborhood its name.
“Parking is not permitted [in front yards] and none of the curb cuts are allowed,” declared Carly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings.
A quirk in city zoning states that the front yards along First, Second, Third and Fourth places are to be used “for courtyards only.” The rule stems from a decades-old decision to designate the front yards of homes on those blocks as actually part of the street, not the homeowner’s lot, giving the city control over what is built there.
None of the homes with curb cuts ever applied for a permit to do so, Sullivan noted, and the cuts would only be legal if they lead to a back garage or off-courtyard use.
She said inspectors would be dispatched to the block and would dispense violations if they confirm this newspaper’s indisputable findings.
“It looks like a trailer park,” agreed Maria Pagano, president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, a civic group determined to have the city enforce the law.
Violators claimed ignorance, with many saying that their homes had curb cuts before they took up residence.
“It’s always been there,” said longtime block resident Dora Camacho. “We’ve never had a problem with the city or anything, and I haven’t heard about zoning problems.”
Her husband, Lou Camacho, didn’t see a problem with the cars in the gardens — particularly his own Audi SUV — or the curb cuts.
“I think it’s fine, it doesn’t ruin anything for me,” he said.
A four-year homeowner who wished to remain anonymous reasoned that the curb cut allows her family to park in the courtyard, which also features a carefully maintained perennial garden. The two can coexist, she said.
“Most of the people on the block are prideful of their gardens, and some also have driveways.”
Neighbor Ciro Pisci bought his house 40 years ago — and it had a curb cut and driveway back then, too.
“No problem, no problem,” he said.
But some neighbors are having a serious problem with the garden-gaffe.
“It’s just one steady spiral downward,” said longtime block resident Mark Butler. “Look at the other ‘Place’ blocks. There may be a couple of garages, but nothing like the front yard parking that our block has.
“Whoever is responsible for enforcing this is asleep,” he added.
The Buildings Department said that its inspections are driven by complaints, most of which come in though 311. None of the homes with curb cuts have any recorded violations for misuse of the front yard gardens, city records show, an indication that no one is complaining about the violation.
Inspectors last visited the block in 2009, responding to a complaint of a car sitting in a garden of a home without a curb cut — but Sullivan said no illegally parked cars were observed.
Councilman Brad Lander (D–Carroll Gardens) said that part of the problem is that the city doesn’t typically enforce parking violations, and the rule itself is buried in the voluminous administrative code, in a section on transportation.
“It’s a law from 1840 and there is no agency who sees it as their responsibility to enforce it,” Lander said.
Glenn Kelly, the co-chair of the land-use committee of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, said that a crackdown is vital, if only to deter others.
“If it is allowed here, then it will be allowed on other blocks, and we won’t have the unique neighborhood we enjoy — we may as well be in Queens,” Kelly said.
And cars are not the only courtyard interlopers. The neighborhood recently won a battle against the Hannah Senesh Community Day School, a private school that wanted to build an extension to its building on an adjoining First Place courtyard — but scrapped the plan after staunch opposition.
Still, the situation on Fourth Place may be a bit better than when Butler first moved to the block in 1982.
“Back then, there was a small boat in a trailer in one of the front gardens,” he recalled.