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You know the story, right? Elizabeth thinks Mr. Darcy is a stuck-up prig. He thinks she’s mean and low-class. She’s nasty to him. Frostiness ensues. Then, after he rescues her sister from ruin, she realizes that he’s just shy. They live happily ever after.

I’m living out a much less romantic version of this morality tale in my neighborhood. Across the street from me there is a house whose owner I had not met or seen up close for eight years. His house had been for sale (for a ridiculously high price) off-and-on until the last year or so, he had a weird habit of backing into his driveway and blinding us with his headlights, and he seemed to not be around most of the time. Also, another neighbor (who can be difficult herself) informed me that he was crazy and mean. I believed her and kept my distance.

The closest we ever got to actually meeting was when Matt yelled at him from our front porch because he was hammering nails outside after 11:00 p.m. That seemed crazy enough. Then there was the Superbowl Sunday two years ago when his girlfriend backed out the driveway too quickly and hit my car when it was parked on the street in front of her house. She was nice and had good insurance, so the incident might have bumped him up in my estimation.

This frostiness has now thawed completely owing to the unlikeliest of circumstances; we’re involved in a zoning dispute with another neighbor. The short version of  that story is that my next-door neighbor asked the city for permission to build a single-family accessory building in her back-yard for personal use. She then ended up building (or her plan “evolved” to build, in her parlance) a duplex, which was promptly rented out to two sets of tenants. The issues with this include but are not limited to the following:

  • The building isn’t zoned for rental;
  • The building isn’t zoned to be two units;
  • The building has yet to be issued a certificate of occupancy;
  • The building is not up to code for two units, as it lacks a fire separation and other fire-safety construction elements.

My neighbor intends to remedy the first two issues by changing her zoning from R-5, single family residential, to R-5A, multi-family residential. The latter would not only make her duplex legal, but would further allow her house to be duplexed or triplexed in the future.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of this plan. Nor are my neighbors on the other side of the house in dispute. Nor are the neighbors on the shared alley behind the house. Nor is the odd guy across the street.

So we’ve been meeting. After eight years, I finally learned his name: It’s Jack. I learned why he was never around before but is now: Former travel-heavy job, now semi-retired. I learned why he seems newly settled in the house: The (very nice) girlfriend. And while I still can’t explain why he was pounding nails at an unreasonable hour, he sheepishly apologized to Matt for it two years after the fact when they officially met last week. In return, we’ve started parking our second car in our driveway more often to make it easier for him to access his own driveway.

By now, about six weeks into what’s going to be a long, hard slog with BOZA (board of zoning and adjustment), I’ve had tea at his table, chats on my porch and his driveway, have exchanged holiday greetings, and have even been invited to take Simon to his country house to explore the grounds and make use of the wild acreage there.

That is so not what I ever expected to happen. I’ve gotten to know other neighbors better out of this dispute as well. I don’t know how the giant mess next door is going to resolve itself, but I am grateful for this sliver of a silver lining and for the reminder that I should not judge people without knowing the full story. Somehow, this lesson seems more than a little appropriate for the season as well.

One Response to “Pride & Predjudice: Cowling Avenue Style”

  1. blg says:

    Agree. Totally what the
    holidays are about.

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