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Plague of illegal driveways erasing street parking across Bensonhurst

Not cool: Bensonhurst residents, including Jimmy Morris, are annoyed that their neighbors have been converting their front yards into illegal driveways and eliminating street parking in the process for the past two decades.
Brooklyn Daily
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They’re the unkindest cut of all.

The city isn’t doing enough to crack down on illegal curb cuts and driveways, which rob neighbors of already-limited street parking spaces, complain fed-up Bensonhurst residents.

One born-and-bred neighborhood son said that locals have illegally cut their curbs and paved over their front lawns for as long as he can remember, but that the problem has gotten particularly out of hand over the past six months.

“In an ideal world, it’s just about enforcing the rules — if you’re going to make these rules, and pretend they exist, and pretend there’s a reason for them, then enforce them,” said Filipp Zaborenko, who lives on 64th Street. “It’s not fair that I get a parking ticket if I block an illegal driveway, but if I damage city property [by destroying the curb], I can just ignore the ticket in the mail.”

Residents have called in complaints about 14 curb cuts on just one block of 66th Street between 20th and 21st avenues, city records show.

But inspectors from the Department of Buildings only issued seven violations in response to those complaints, even though only three of the 14 residences in question had permits for legal curb cuts on file at the time the complaints were lodged. Two of the violations resulted in $300 fines that the owners paid, three were dismissed, and two are still open — including one issued last year with a $4,000 fine. The standard fine for an illegal curb cut is $800, but can be adjusted at the discretion of an administrative judge.

Locals have also called in six complaints of illegal parking on the block in the past four years, 311 records show, but there’s no way for traffic enforcement officers to even know if a car on the street is legally parked or not since they don’t have a database indicating which driveways are legitimate, according to police sources cited in a February New York Post story on the topic, so residents often get tickets for blocking illegitimate driveways.

The police department did not respond to this paper’s repeated requests for comment.

But Zaborenko said the problem isn’t limited to that one block. He said he’s seen what he believes are illegal driveways from 65th to 76th streets between 17th and 21st avenues, adding that he once had to drive around looking for a spot for more than ninety minutes one night last summer before he ultimately gave up, parked his car at a subway station, and took the train home.

“This isn’t exactly a tourist destination where parking should be a hot commodity seven days a week,” he said.

Members of the local community board have heard complaints of illegal curb cuts taking away parking in the neighborhood for nearly two decades, according to the district manager, who said that the Department of Buildings needs to hire more inspectors, and enforce more stringent punishments for offenders.

“It’s an ongoing issue, it has been for many years,” said Marnee Elias-Pavila of Community Board 11. “[The Department of Buildings] violations are more bark than bite — there needs to be teeth in the law.”

Another local agreed that homeowners flout the rules because of weak penalties and lax enforcement — even as street parking is at a higher premium than ever given the population surge caused by another neighborhood scofflaw blight — illegal conversions.

“Because of the influx of new people coming in, rooms being divided and stuff like that, everybody’s got a car and that becomes an issue,” said Jimmy Morris of 64th Street, who has lived in the neighborhood for two decades. “I think they understand the rules, but they just know that there’s things they can get away with and they try to circumvent the rules until something does happen.”

The district’s former councilman Vincent Gentile introduced two different bills to implement stronger regulations and punishments for illegal driveways and curb cuts in 2006 and again in 2007, but neither ever made it to the Council floor for a vote.

A spokesman from the buildings department said that the agency’s 500 inspectors crosscheck city records with their observations at the scenes of potentially illegal curb cuts and driveways after locals call in complaints to 311, and that they issue violations if there were no records of curb-cut permits for the property. And if police ticket a car parked in front of a driveway, the driver can use the buildings agency’s website to check if the property had a curb cut violation, which they can then use as evidence to dispute their ticket, the rep said.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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