How's this for irony: One of City Hall's most vocal critics is seeking its help.
To which John B. Kalb might add: Why not? Government helped create the problem in the first place.
“We've lived here for 49 years but haven't used the garage since the sound barrier went up (in 2002) and closed off our driveway,” Kalb said, referring to the maroon masonry and steel wall that shields his Mulberry Road home and the rest of the Wildwood Park neighborhood from the noise created by traffic on West Jefferson Boulevard.
His garage has served as a storage shed, and its abbreviated driveway that once led to Jefferson an extended patio, ever since. Kalb, however, still wants a useable garage – one big enough for two cars – and the $13,000 he's already paid to its $22,000 cost has filled his yard with materials waiting to be assembled.
That's where the problem comes in: He can't begin the project – at least in its desired location – without the blessing of the city's Board of Zoning Appeals.
“The garage would have to be in my driveway,” said Kalb, who wants the BZA to prevent that inconvenience by allowing him to waive the usual setback requirements and place the building on the line that separates his property from the city-owned vacant lot next door. With the neighborhood association backing his request, and with Kalb's proposed location still leaving several feet between the garage and the sound barrier erected along Ardmore Avenue two years ago, approval would normally seem a foregone conclusion.
Kalb's wife, Judy, isn't so sure. “He might not get it. He's fought City Hall,” she said.
That he has. Kalb was one of the downtown Harrison Square project's most outspoken opponents when it was proposed several years ago. Since then he's been in the news periodically by questioning the use of tax abatements and other incentives to create jobs or the need for City Utilities to increase its water rates. In fact, he was one of the few Wildwood residents not to support the original sound barrier, even though Judy now calls them “blessings.”
“They don't deaden the sound, but they do cut the visual pollution,” Kalb grudgingly acknowledges – while noting that erection of the first barrier created drainage problems that cost him $4,000 to correct.
Even his seemingly mundane garage project has had at least one snafu. When he first attempted to buy some of the city's next-door lot to accommodate his garage, Kalb was denied because he was supposedly delinquent in his property taxes.
The matter was resolved when it turned out that his bank – not Kalb or the government – had made the mistake.
And that doesn't even include the time he was cited for the too-tall weeds growing on that city lot.
I suppose one could infer on the basis of the investment Kalb has already made that he is confident the very city with which he has so often sparred will side with him when the BZA meets next month. That would be good, and not just because it might restore at least a little of Kalb's faith in government. Citizens, after all, should be encouraged to engage their government, not criticized or even punished for it.
In any case, the irascible Kalb may feel as though the passage of time has already imposed a sufficient penalty.
“I'm paying $22,000 for the garage,” he said. “But the house only cost me $19,500.”