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You already know that Westmoreland is a very special neighborhood. It has nice local businesses and services, convenient transportation, great public schools, and attractive, well cared-for homes. That's probably part of the reason you moved here. But maybe you are not familiar with the Westmoreland Association, Inc., and the history that made the Westmoreland community so special ever since it was first created in the early 1900's.
The Origins: Development by the Rickert-Finlay Company
What Makes Our Land So Special >>>
What Are These Protective Covenants All About? >>>
Are the Covenants Really Still Needed? >>>
Sounds Good -- What's the Catch? >>>
What Does It Mean "To Defend Our Covenants" - Who Does That? >>>
Recent Efforts to Defend our Covenants >>>
Who Pays to Enforce our Covenants? >>>
It's Your Association Too -- Please Become Active! >>>
The Origins: Development by the Rickert-Finlay Company
Until around the turn of the century, most of the Little Neck area was sparsely populated, open farm land. In 1905, Mary and Benjamin Woolley sold a tract of land to the Rickert-Finlay Company which proceeded to lay out streets and building lots for the Westmoreland development. Generally, it is bounded by Northern Boulevard on the south, Little Neck Parkway on the west, the LIRR and 39th Road on the north and Nassau Road on the east. [See Map.] Most of the 300 or more homes in the area were built between 1905 and 1930. The title of every property in Westmoreland can be traced back to when Rickert-Finlay bought it.
What Makes Our Land So Special -- Our Protective Covenants
In the early days there were no zoning laws in New York or other cities. There was no way for a community like ours to ensure that its character - and its property values - would be maintained. In a far-sighted move, Rickert-Finlay figured out a way to address that need. They provided the new Westmoreland community with something intending to achieve the same thing that zoning laws try to accomplish, although the advent of zoning didn't occur until many years later.
Every piece of Westmoreland property Rickert-Finlay sold had a set of protective covenants and restrictions included as part of the title and deed. These were rules, similar to zoning rules, that "run with the land". This means they apply to every successive buyer of property in the Westmoreland area. They were included in your deed when you bought your property (even if you weren't told about them). When you sell your property they will apply to the deed of the next owner. [See List of Covenants.]
Lawyers call these rules "restrictive" covenants because, like municipal zoning laws, they restrict property owners from doing certain undesirable things. We call them "protective" covenants, because they are so important to the protection of the quality and character of our community and the high property values we enjoy.
What Are These Protective Covenants All About?
There are 13 rules in all [See List of Covenants]. A few of them are just echoes from another time. For example, the first Covenant says that we aren't allowed to build houses costing less than $3,000, and Covenants #11 and #12 limit where a stable could be built.
But most of our Covenants are still as important and relevant today as they were when Rickert-Finlay wrote them. Covenant #7 establishes the minimum size of a plot where a house may be built. The lots were laid out to be about 20' x 100' and the Covenant requires corner houses to have at least three lots. Houses that are not on the corner must have at least two lots. In essence, this means corner houses need 60' x 100' building lots and other houses need 40' x 100'. Similarly, Covenants #9 and #10 establish 20 foot minimum "set-back" distances from the front property line, the lines closest to the street, and the side lines too, for corner properties. Covenant #13 prohibits fences, other than hedges or shrubbery, within 20 feet of the front lines or corner lot side lines.
These Covenants are crucial to protecting the distinctive quality and friendly character of our neighborhood. They make allowance for open space. The generous vistas of our wide streets and unfenced front yards provide a sense of comfort and tranquility and directly contribute to keeping our property values high.
Are the Covenants Really Still Needed?
Some people wonder whether our protective Covenants are still necessary, since New York City and Nassau County (part of the Westmoreland community is in Nassau County, you know) have long since enacted zoning laws. The answer is Yes! - for three important reasons.
First, our Covenants are more stable than zoning. Zoning laws can be changed and they frequently are. Several times in recent years, New York City has considered "down-zoning" certain areas in our part of Queens in order to allow denser development. These changes would be a benefit for people who build and sell homes, but a disadvantage for the people who own and live in them. By contrast, our protective Covenants can't be changed unless most of the property owners in our neighborhood agree.
Second, the zoning laws are less protective than our Covenants. The zoning in most of our neighborhood allows denser development than the Covenants do. For instance, the zoning only requires a 15 foot set-back from the streets; our Covenants require 20 feet -- one third more. It may not sound like much of a difference, but it would mean a much larger house could be built on a given plot. It would change the visual character of the neighborhood and make it easier to make conversions for illegal multi-family occupancy. That sets the stage for absentee landlords and residents who have little stake in either the quality of housing stock or the property values of our neighborhood.
Third, the Buildings Department and other City agencies are notoriously lax about enforcing the zoning law, but we can defend our own Covenants independently.
Sounds Good -- What's the Catch?
To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, eternal vigilance is the price of our protective Covenants. We - and only we - can defend and enforce them; the government can not and will not enforce them for us.
What Does It Mean "To Defend Our Covenants" - Who Does That?
That's where Westmoreland Association comes in. The primary purpose of our organization is to defend our protective Covenants. Of course, we have other functions too, just like civic associations or home owners' groups everywhere. We help people get City services, we work with government and law enforcement agencies, and so on. But defending and enforcing the Covenants is Westmoreland Association's most important job. Four times since the Covenants were written we have had to go to court to enforce them. Each time, we won a full and complete victory. The courts have held that our Rickert-Finlay Covenants are as valid, and as important, and as defensible as they were when they were written, almost a century ago.
Recent Efforts to Defend our Covenants
One of our recent battles started in 1987 and lasted eight years. Some unscrupulous developers bought and demolished a house on 41st Drive, and then started building three new houses in its place. They knew they wanted to violate the Covenants, and even testified in Court that they believed nobody could stop them. The three new houses were only going to be set back 15 feet from the front line - in compliance with the City zoning, but not with our Covenants. The houses appeared especially designed so conversion for illegal 2- or even 3-family occupancy would have been easy. As soon as construction began we asked the builders to comply with our higher standards, but they refused. So we went to court, as we had done in previous decades, and we won a complete victory. Then we even had to go back to court later to enforce the victory. Today there are three new homes there and they all conform to our Covenants. We welcome our new neighbors who bought them and all newcomers to the community.
Even more recently we had to go to court again to enforce Covenant #13, which specifies that there may be no fences closer than 20 feet to the front line (or side street line on a corner property). During the late 1990's the Westmoreland Association identified a small number of properties from among the more than 300 in our neighborhood which have fences located too close to the front or side street property lines. In 1998 we wrote to the owner of each such property, notifying them of the fence violation. At that time, we even offered to contribute to the cost of removing or relocating the fence. (That offer is no longer in effect.) A significant number of owners complied with our request, but not all. Among the owners with whom we communicated in 1998 was one who had recently built a large fence immediately adjacent to the sidewalk along much of the side lot line of his corner property. We spoke with and wrote to him several times in 1998 and 1999, asking that he correct the violation, but he refused. In September, 1999 we filed a lawsuit against him. A trial was scheduled for October, 2001. Just before the trial was to begin, the owner signed a Stipulation of Settlement, acknowledging the violation and agreeing to cure it fully. Shortly thereafter, in November 2001, he removed the fence and later replaced it with an attractive hedge of shrubs (allowed under the Covenant).
Who Pays to Enforce our Covenants?
A lawsuit is very expensive. Many people in the community contributed substantial amounts of their hard-earned money to make these victories possible; and several of our members who are attorneys donated large amounts of their professional time. They did it because they knew that the investment was worth the return. Ask any professional real estate agent. They will tell you that one reason the Westmoreland community is so desirable, and has such high property values, is because of the qualities derived from our protective Covenants, and because of our demonstrated willingness to do what's necessary to defend them.
It's Your Association Too -- Please Become Active!
Everyone who owns property in the Westmoreland community is automatically a member of Westmoreland Association, as of right. Like any volunteer group, it is only as effective as its active members. We only hold five meetings each year, on the third Monday in September, November, January, March and May. It is a place we meet our neighbors and share each other's concerns. And, of course, we keep an eye on new construction to make sure that our protective Covenants and the zoning are both faithfully adhered to. You can participate by identifying issues the Association might address. Bring your ideas to one of our meetings or speak to any of our Directors. Please also help by paying your dues. They are minimal, $7.50 per individual member or $15 per household, and are used primarily for mailings and the cost of our meeting room.
So once again -- a sincere welcome to both old and new residents alike. We hope to see you at one of the next Association meetings!