A garage lady lives inside all of us. Thin-boned and unassuming, she resides on a forgettable intersection in our mind and often is out to brunch. But when she is around, she asks for a bigger closet and complains about slow buses.
Occasionally, she makes herself heard with gossip about the neighbor with the annoyingly severe views on house maintenance.
And, every once in a while, she wonders why it’s so hard to find a parking spot when she gets home from visiting her parents.
The garage lady represents our desires for suburban-style comfort in the midst of a frantic, crowded city and our fears of the eternally judgmental neighbor. Most of all, she symbolizes our willing ignorance of the thousands of rules and regulations that dictate everything from the height of the new ugly building on the corner, to when the streets get cleaned, to what the air smells like when we wake up in the morning.
On one well-preserved block of brownstones in Boerum Hill, the garage lady has become personified. There, she is a real lady with a real garage, driveway and curb cut in front of her newly renovated row house.
Like most of the residents of the block, I have never met the owner of the new house at 578 Pacific St.
What I know is a few facts: Her curb cut is illegal, her garage requires a publicly-approved variance and she owes the city $2,500 for failing to obey multiple stop work orders. Of course, she doesn’t return phone calls from reporters, or irate neighbors.
I also know that at least one fellow Pacific Street resident spotted her shoveling snow in front of her house after a storm last month. A warmly dressed child was helping, the neighbor said.
“I guess scofflaws pick and choose which rules to obey,” he told me, with a laugh.
Clearly, that neighbor is very angry at the garage lady.
“There is a difference between being a respectful member of society who makes a mistake and being a scofflaw,” he said.
The owner of the row house at 578 Pacific St. broke the law on a few counts when she built a garage into the basement level of her home. The first violation is zoning. Individual car lots are strictly forbidden on Pacific Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues because of fine print on the area’s zoning meant to preserve the block’s brownstone character.
On top of that, the curb cut eliminates a parking space in a neighborhood that has thousands more cars than street parking spaces, according to a study done last year by the Department of Transportation.
“No one wants to see driveways on this block and no one is allowed to have them,” said the angry neighbor.
“When you don’t think that the rules of law of a society apply to you,” he said, “you should take the first train out of town.”
I would like to believe that the garage lady never intended to break the law.
And while I am in no way saying that she should get to keep her space — I personally believe everyone should be riding a bike — I do empathize with her.
Brooklyn’s Byzantine building codes and uninformed contractors (who built the illegal garage, anyway?) have a way of making one’s head spin. And the truth is, crime doesn’t pay — not even the bureaucratic ones. The owner of 578 Pacific St. learned this the hard way.
Apparently, the same contractor that built her an illegal garage also stole pipes from the inside the house, according to the angry neighbor.
I guess what goes around comes around, even for the garage lady personified.
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