The City May Be Forced To Take Over Privately Owned NYC Streets

Quaint and beatific or deteriorating and ugly? Private streets differ massively from Manhattan to the outer boroughs.

By Jeff Vasishta April 19, 2017
Editorial credit: trabantos /

A private street in New York City. It sounds like an oxymoron. But yes, there are dozens of private streets in the city which are immune to the much loathed alternate side of the street parking, congestion and  traffic tickets. It sounds too good to be true. Well, that would depend on where you live.

In Manhattan, the 36 or so private streets—according to an article in AM New York—can be gated, tree lined, well and landscaped. An oasis of tranquility compared to the bustling streets around them. Famous enclaves include Pomander Walk, a gated-off street that connects West 94th and West 95th streets, between West End Avenue and Broadway and Washington Mews — a narrow, stone block street of former horse stables, open to the public. Upper Manhattan gets in on the act, too. Sylvan Terrace in Washington Heights is publicly accessible. The quaint, wooden Italianate row houses are like a trip back in time, a reason such streets are used in movie sets.

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However, private streets are not all Victorian era coach lights and manicured shrubbery. In the outer boroughs, the lack of city infused funds for drainage repairs and street lights have turned these streets into twilight zones with home owners desperate for help. The city will soon begin the process of surveying these private pavements to see if they should take over the jurisdiction. In parts of Brooklyn — such as Sheepshead Bay, Bergen Beach and the Rockaways — the need is dire.

“During steady rains, we have two to three inches of water that accumulate because the community can’t afford to upgrade the sewers themselves”, said Missy Haggerty, a fourth generation homeowner on Lake Avenue, a private road in Sheepshead Bay “We have no (street) lighting. Everyone’s home has the light on all the time to see outside.”

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Problems were exacerbated with superstorm Sandy wreaking havoc to poorly maintained drains and sewers as well as the flooding of properties. Some residents unaware that they live on private streets which has increased their frustration as neighboring streets are maintained by the city, while theirs deteriorate.

The city’s study will be completed by June 30th 2018 after which a series of negotiations will have to take place. City Councilman Alan Maisel, who sponsored the legislation authorizing the Department of Transportation study, doesn’t expect a resolution anytime soon.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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