Ask the Architect

Rethinking the garage


Q. Our two-car garage faces the street, but we’re making a lot of changes to our house, and want to open the garage door from our side yard instead of the front, partly because it will look nicer and also because it will give us privacy when we use it for shade in hot weather with the door open. We have always kept it organized so our cars fit. The problem is, we aren’t sure we have the room to make the turn, or whether there are rules about how much room we need for a driveway in our side yard. What permits do we need, how much space do we need and do we need our neighbor’s permission?

A. I remember, growing up, that there was a new development being built where one of the advertised features was that the garages didn’t face the street. The marketing term they used was to call these homes “estate homes,” partly, I believe, because they needed more land and a greater distance between neighbors. I also remember that the homes were arranged so the neighbors didn’t have a view out of side windows, looking into one another’s garages.
Your idea of creating another covered area to sit outdoors on hot, sunny days makes sense. Because there are no requirements for neighbor’s permission, or that residences require prescribed parking dimensions, your only problem is whether you have the turning area, also known to planners as turning radius.
If you’ve ever noticed that street corners are uniformly rounded, it’s because they’re regulated. The same goes for parking lots, where we use a 5-foot radius for turning at a right angle, and the backup aisle is 24 feet wide. If you have more than 24 feet for the side-yard distance from your garage to your property line, plus a few extra feet, hopefully, to plant hedges, then you should have no problem laying out the new driveway approach.
Plans and a permit are required to show the structural change for the new garage door opening so your roof is correctly supported. You should hire an architect or engineer, since the plans will require a professional’s seal. If your home is in one of the many smaller villages that require the paving to be “permeable,” allowing rainwater to seep through and recharge groundwater, then you have more to do, which is why a professional should be hired to calculate and make recommendations on the least costly or least invasive way to handle drainage.
It’s true that this used to be simple, and it may even seem simple when you talk to a building official and they use phrases like “all you need to do” or “you just need” or “your architect will know.” These phrases give the impression that this should be simple, another word for cheap. The only thing that makes it simple is when the explanations given to you are thorough and clear, and the planning is, too. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.