United and Divided by A Driveway

In the early days of Chevy Chase, joint driveways were a way to allow for green space, said Mary Anne Hoffman, left, with her husband, Lance, and the neighbors they share with: Justine, John and Ned Desmond and Joan Hoffman.
In the early days of Chevy Chase, joint driveways were a way to allow for green space, said Mary Anne Hoffman, left, with her husband, Lance, and the neighbors they share with: Justine, John and Ned Desmond and Joan Hoffman. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

By Karen Tanner Allen
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, May 5, 2007

The joy of sharing can be overrated when it comes to driveways.

Lee Goldstein found that out during the three years his family shared a driveway with neighbors in Silver Spring. "It was miserable," he recalled.

All four cars for both houses could fit at once, if they were staggered so the driver's doors could open. But the next-door neighbors were protective of the invisible property line down the driveway's center. The Goldsteins felt scrutinized whenever they washed a car, shoveled snow or removed groceries from their trunk.

Goldstein and his wife, Teasa, sold the house in 2005, in part because of the driveway. "If they're good neighbors, it can work out very well," Goldstein said. Otherwise, "it puts you into contact with these people more often than you'd want to be."

Arrangements whereby one driveway serves two houses -- or sometimes three -- show up in neighborhoods all over the District, as well as in older sections of the suburbs, including Bethesda, Silver Spring, Arlington and Falls Church. They also appear in newer developments, usually when a new house is built behind an older one with just one way out.

Many home buyers pay scant attention to driveway logistics when they decide on a house. In a crowded metropolitan area, they may be grateful just to have an off-street spot for a car. But, as Goldstein said, a joint driveway requires more cooperation with the neighbors than simply sharing a fence.

Typically, one driveway runs between two houses, leading to separate garages or carports behind the homes. Sometimes the property line runs down the middle. Or the driveway for one house serves as an easement to reach the garage or carport of the second house.

Shoveling snow, raking leaves, maintaining the surface and agreeing where to park all are issues that must be discussed. Chores such as putting out the garbage or unloading a car can mean daily interaction.

Usually it works out just fine, homeowners and real estate agents say.

"Getting to know your neighbors and making sure you all get along is the most important thing about a shared driveway," said Natasha Saifee, who has lived with her husband, Salim, in a Chevy Chase bungalow with a joint driveway for six years. "Once you get used to it, it's not that big of a deal."

The extra interaction can even be a benefit, she said. In a documentary on Chevy Chase that aired recently on public television, Saifee said the community's many common driveways contributed to stronger ties among residents.

She reiterated the point while standing on the back porch of the bungalow in early spring. "It definitely fosters a greater sense of intimacy or community among people," said Saifee, a mother of 2 1/2 -year-old twins and council member for the Village of Chevy Chase Section 3. "We see [our neighbors] on a daily basis. . . . It's actually very nice."


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