“What am I going to do in the wintertime when I have to go to the hospital and I have to dig my car out because everybody else in the family has gone to work?” says N.D.G. resident and cancer patient Buffy Paznokaitis, seen here with her dog, Rusty. “When I come back, where will I find a parking spot?" Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette
When Buffy Paznokaitis and her husband were looking to buy a home in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce 18 years ago, a parking spot was one of the main requirements. They found exactly what they were looking for on Benny Ave. and, with a second child on the way, they settled in to raise their growing family.
Everything changed earlier this month when, without warning, the borough installed a new, high-curbed sidewalk in front of the couple’s home, making it impossible to access a parking spot that they had enjoyed for nearly two decades.
This comes just as that parking space is turning from a convenience into a necessity.
“Each time I go through chemo, I get weaker,” Paznokaitis said. “It’s only going to get worse.”
The 52-year-old mother of two has breast cancer that has metastasized into her lungs. With a life expectancy of about two years, she is battling pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis while undergoing chemotherapy. To top it off, she is limping on plantar fasciitis. She relies on her car to get to and from the hospital for regular treatments and tests, but she has no place to park at home.
That stretch of Benny Ave. between de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Sherbrooke St. W. is often jam-packed with cars parked on the street due to the area’s dense housing and commerce. Now Paznokaitis must sometimes park several blocks away.
“What am I going to do in the wintertime when I have to go to the hospital and I have to dig my car out because everybody else in the family has gone to work?” Paznokaitis said. “When I come back, where will I find a parking spot? How am I going to get my groceries into the house? It’s all these little things that nobody thinks about.”
She has been trying to sort this issue out with the borough of Côte-des-Neiges–N.D.G., contacting municipal offices, public works and her city councillor, Jeremy Searle.
“She has no right to a driveway,” Searle said in a phone interview as he walked Benny Ave. and inspected the situation.
“It’s like if somebody wants to park on their front grass. You can’t do it. People have these driveways for years and years. Then their sidewalk gets redone and it disappears, but they never had a right to it in the first place. I hate to say this. I’d like everybody to be happy, but she has no right to a driveway there.”
Searle said he “strongly supports” rules that bar people from parking directly in front of their home’s façade, sandwiched between building and sidewalk.
Borough director Stéphane Plante said illegal parking spots are common throughout N.D.G. Residents often pave over their front yards to allow two cars side by side. Sometimes people even illegally cut a sidewalk entry into the curb without permission.
Plante said records are checked carefully for every driveway entrance when redoing streets and sidewalks. In this case, it appears a previous owner converted the garage into a living space without a proper permit, he said. The driveway was designed for motorists to park their vehicles in a garage, not in front where the space is too small, he said.
Before buying a home, he added, people should check with their borough to see if the driveway is legal.
Paznokaitis confirmed that her home’s basement-level, two-car garage was converted into a living space by a previous owner, but the driveway was still in place with a cut in the sidewalk. She had never been informed that the driveway was illegal.
The couple’s house was one of two homes that lost driveway access on the block during the recent work by the borough to repair that stretch of road.
Throughout the borough’s ongoing effort to repair streets and sidewalks in recent years, many homeowners are, like Paznokaitis, surprised to lose driveway access, Plante said. Sometimes, he added, there may be four or five cases on one block.
“A lot of residents decide to extend their driveway access and the sidewalk cut without a permit,” Plante said. “When we see it was done illegally, we put it back the way it was before because we don’t want to have entrances all over the place.”
Even if those spots have been in use for years, there is no grandfather clause for their use.
In Paznokaitis’s case, Plante said he is willing to discuss possible solutions such as issuing a special residential parking permit because she is coping with an illness. The borough doesn’t normally offer compensation like this, he said, but “we understand that there is an impact here because she has chemo treatments and everything. We can look at it and see if there is something we can do.”
Paznokaitis said she’s not interested in a residential parking sticker if she has to pay. Street parking, with restricted hours due to cleaning and snow removal, is not the solution she is looking for.
“I’m upset,” she said. “I don’t have the energy to fight, but I would like to have my driveway back.”
all right reserved for Montreal Gazette