A recent spate of citations in JP for “illegal front yard parking” is part of a citywide policy, a representative from City Councilor John Tobin’s Office told the Gazette last week.
As the Gazette reported earlier this month, a number of residents who had for years assumed they were allowed to park on their property, have been receiving fines to the tune of hundreds of dollars from the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).
Fines are only the beginning of the costs homeowners looking to maintain off-street parking will incur. The process of having a permitted driveway installed normally runs into the thousands of dollars.
And there can potentially be other costs as well. The residents in condominiums at 3-5 Oakdale St. had $300 in ISD fines dismissed and have no idea yet how much their actual curb cut is going to cost, but they are already out about over $10,000, said Laura Wulfe, a resident at 5 Oakdale.
They were misled when they purchased their homes, she said. “In the master deed it refers to off-street parking, but there [are no permits] in the city files to back it up.”
One of the condo owners, Larry Sullivan, has been living there “forever,” Wulfe said. The rest have been there for about five years, and no one ever knew the driveways were a problem.
Since they started getting cited in September they have had to hire a surveyor to map out a driveway they had been using for years—a precondition of getting the necessary permits, she said. They have also had to hire a lawyer to rewrite their master deed and condo documents to reflect the changes.
The condo association considered suing, Wulfe said, but it was unclear whether they would look to the former owners, the real estate agentss who sold them the units or the original developer for damages.
“Basically we said, ‘Let’s move on, what’s the point?’” she said.
In the meantime, they have been parking in the street, Wulfe said, and that has presented headaches of its own. “My car has been broken into twice. My tires were slashed in the fall. Last week someone stole my ignition wires. This has been frustrating for a lot of reasons,” Wulfe said.
While lawyer’s fees are adding a large sum to the price tag of getting their parking spaces permitted for the residents at 3-5 Oakdale, those costs are not always necessary.
Most people the Gazette spoke to estimated the cost of getting curb-cuts installed at under $10,000.
It is a complicated process, though.
Homeowners must submit permit applications to both ISD and—to get a curb cut—the Public Works Department (PWD), said PWD Assistant Commissioner Frank O’Brien.
Those applications—including plans drawn up by a contractor—will either be approved “as of right” or denied if they are in violation of zoning restrictions, in which case the applicant can apply for zoning relief.
If they are approved, the property owner can hire one of 12 contractors bonded with the city to install the curb cut, O’Brien said.
One way to defray costs, he said is have a curb cut installed while sidewalk work is being done.
In those cases, homeowners can make, “side agreements with the contractor [to install a curb cut] outside of the hours the contractor is using for city work,” O’Brien said.
“We encourage property owners to do it then. It’s cheaper for them if the contractor already has the equipment and material there,” he said.
The contractors do the work on their own time and it “in no way takes away from any public works project,” O’Brien said.
A representative from the Code Enforcement division of ISD, whom the Gazette spoke to for an earlier story, denied there had been any particular effort from that division to target either JP or unpermitted driveways throughout the city. He suggested ISD building inspectors might be issuing the citations.
Since the publication of that story, Tobin’s Chief of Staff, David Isberg told the Gazette he spoke to ISD officials and confirmed the citations are coming from the Building and Structures division.
“The building inspectors must have had a list of which houses had [permitted] driveways and cited the ones that weren’t on the list,” Isberg said.
Isberg also said it is his understanding that ISD has been cracking down on unpermitted driveways throughout the city.
Tobin’s office initially contacted ISD last month after receiving over a half-dozen calls from JP constituents complaining about the violations.
Although the Gazette put in a Freedom of Information Act request, ISD was unable to provide statistical information by press time confirming it is stepping up enforcement citywide or that the bulk of citations are coming from Building and Structures.
Information the department provided did confirm, however, that Code Enforcement did not issue the citations that residents spoke to the Gazette about.
The Oakdale Street address did not appear on a list of seven addresses Code Enforcement cited for unpermitted parking this year and neither did cases the Gazette previously reported about, including citations received by residents of St. Joseph Street and John Fulton of Sedgwick Street.
Isberg said he thinks it would have made more sense for ISD to issue warning letters to homeowners with unpermitted driveways before fining them. But he spoke favorably about the department’s handling of concerns raised by the city councilor’s office.
“ISD has been very willing to work with people,” he said.
In many cases, those who appeal their tickets to the Housing Court get them dismissed, Isberg said. And in some cases ISD has been willing to dismiss tickets prior to the hearing.
The councilor’s office stands ready, he said, to help constituents who have been issued citations with the ISD process. Tobin’s Office can be reached at 635-4220.