Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Please Give to the Anti-Curb Cut Fund!

We know that cars are bad.

Curb cuts, driveways and garages are also bad. They look bad, and they get in the way of people trying to walk down the street. But most importantly, they're bad because they make it easier for people to own cars!

I once rented a house that not only had a curb cut, but a driveway and a garage. I didn't own a car, so I rode around town with the garage door opener on the handlebars of my bike. It was fun for a little while, but then I realized that it was kind of a waste of space, even though it was a small garage. I talked to my landlord, and he took $50 off my monthly rent and rented the garage to the guy who lived behind us.

But I know that not everyone is like me, and most Americans would see a garage as a valuable place to store a car. In dense cities like New York, not having a garage or a driveway can deter some people from even owning a car (or a second car), because it's so hard to find (or afford) parking.

In my neighborhood there is a significant opposition to curb cuts, largely on aesthetic grounds. There are restrictions against putting in curb cuts in some areas, but once someone's poured the concrete, there's no easy way to get rid of them. Even if the owners move, it's very likely that they'll sell the place to someone who wants to use the curb cut. Who would buy a house with a curb cut just to tear it out and re-sod the grass? This is a source of frustration for many of my neighbors.

But now I have an idea: use the Power of Real Estate!

I recently heard a neighbor talking about how she had had trouble with a nearby business that attracted undesirables (my word - read what you like into it), so she bought the building, closed down the establishment and opened a different one, that brought in a different clientele. The things you can do if you can afford to buy a building - or borrow enough!

I thought about that in relation to curb cuts. Imagine if, whenever there's a house with a curb cut on the market you could buy it, tear up the driveway and put down grass. If there's a driveway or parking lot, tear that up too. If there's a garage, renovate it into a basement, workshop or sitting room. You might get less money for it in the end, but wouldn't it be worth it? How much would you pay to get rid of a curb cut?

You wouldn't even have to buy the house. You could just make an offer to the buyer and the seller: you'll tear up the curb cut at your own expense, or reimburse the owner for tearing it up. And you'll pay the closing costs, or maybe the difference between the purchase price and an estimate of what it would have gone for with a curb cut. That would probably come to less than $5,000, right? In exchange, the buyer has to sign a 99-year covenant saying that if they ever put in a curb cut, they forfeit the property to the neighborhood association.

Hey, the house wouldn't even need to change hands. You could offer the current owners the same deal without selling: you'll tear out the curb cut at your expense and pay a lump sum in exchange for the covenant.

Okay, so you don't have a spare $5 grand sitting around. But could you find four neighbors who'd each be willing to spend $1000 to get rid of that curb cut down the block? Or 99 neighbors willing to spend $500 each to help get rid of ten curb cuts in your neighborhood? It might not even need $5,000; I think it only costs $350 to tear up a driveway. You could maybe find a rich anti-curb-cut philanthropist or foundation to give you a matching grant. Or have a fundraising party, or solicit donations on the street. It's an environmentalist action, after all, and helps to stop global warming!

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