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Minutes of the General Membership Meeting of the Westmoreland Association
September 13, 2013
President � Walter Mugdan
Vice President--Sheldon Rosenblum
Treasurer � Gary Savage
Secretary � Charles Manna
Board Members Present
President Walter Mugdan called the meeting to order at 8:05 P.M.
A motion was made, seconded and unanimously adopted to waive reading of
the minutes. (Mr. Mugdan noted
that the minutes were available for review on the Westmoreland website.)
Gary Savage gave the Treasurer�s Report indicating that the
balance-on-hand was $19,200.18 as of September 16, 2013.
A motion was made to accept the Treasurer�s report.
The motion was seconded and the report was unanimously approved.
Pauline Healey � President, Douglas Manor Association
Janet McCreesh -- President, Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Assoc.
Robert Hanophy -- Legal Committee, BFHA
Steven Masillo � from Assemblyman Bronstein�s office
New Business �
Walter Mugdan explained that this was the first time, as far as is known, that representatives of the three Rickert-Finlay communities in Queens came together to discuss common issues. He summarized the history of the Rickert-Finlay developments: At the beginning of the 20th Century protective and restrictive covenants were added to the deeds of properties subdivided and sold by the R-F Company. Successive owners inherit and are subject to the covenants, which "run with the land" in legal parlance. Our neighborhood has thirteen covenants attached to our deeds. (Excluded from the properties subject to the covenants are homes on the block surrounded by Little Neck Parkway, 42nd Ave, 43rd Ave and Westmoreland Street.) Some of the covenants are no longer relevant or applicable, such as the prohibition against keeping livestock. Others are still useful. For instance, no house may be built closer than 20 feet of the front line of the property (or the side line, in the case of a corner property); and no fence may be erected closer than 20 feet from the front or (for corner properties) side line. There are also restrictions on conducting business on properties other than in the designated business district. We remind our membership every March by printing the covenants on the back of the meeting invitation flyer.
Covenants can be enforced only by the homeowners, not by the building department. That is why there is a homeowners association. The association makes sure that all owners are aware of the covenants and enforces them if necessary. However, actions to enforce the covenants are expensive and time consuming.
There is also a R-F development in the Kensington Village section of Great Neck. The covenants were absorbed into the town zoning rules.
The Times-Ledger published an article about the Broadway-Flushing Association�s battle to enforce the covenants. It said: �The Rickert-Finlay Covenant of 1909 was an attempt by the original developers to codify the neighborhood�s character,� according to the BFHA. Both their and the Westmoreland covenants stipulate minimum builting costs (now anchronistic) and prohibit certain types of walls and fences in an effort to retain an open and more rural landscape. "Our neighborhood does not look the way it does by accident,� said Janet McCreesh, who presides over the leafy enclave as head of the association. �It looks that way because of constant work by the association in protecting the covenant.� Here is a link to the article: http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2013/26/bwayhomeownersuit_ne_2013_06_28_q.html.
There are other restrictions that the associations wish to enforce such as rules against the commercial use of property, setbacks of buildings, and height of the buildings. In an enforcement case, the association has to convince the judge that the covenants are still relevant and that are still being followed by most of the other homeowners whose deeds have the covenants attached. The recent court decisions that the covenants remain as valid as when they were written and trump the local building codes have been a boon to the associations.
Past proposals to have the Building Department apply and enforce the covenants have been unsuccessful. (The implementation of R2A zoning in parts of the R-F communities has been helpful. One of the requirements is that new construction must be set back from the front line a distance that is consistent with the other houses on the block.)
The BFHA covers the area from Utopia Parkway to155 Street and Northern Blvd to Bowne Park. Out of 1300 homes, there are approximately 500 with Rickert-Finlay covenants. The DMA covers roughly the area north of Cherry Street in Douglaston.
The deed restrictions are forever, unless the homeowner associations stop enforcing them. Once the percentage of non-conforming properties gets high enough, the courts will rule that a particular restriction is null and void.
The Westmoreland members compared notes with the other associations on our history of enforcement and how we maintain our restrictions. DMA currently has severe budgetary constraints that would make it difficult to take a covenant enforcement action at this time. Their covenants are pretty much the same as ours. But dues are mandatory; it takes a two-thirds majority to raise the dues. The DMA owns and manages the marina, dock and the park along Douglas and Shore Roads.
In the U.S., normally losers do not pay winners' court costs in litigation. Walter Mugdan explained how the court awarded the association money in one case. The defendant lost at trial, but ignored the ruling for years, forcing the association to bring an action to compel compliance. Costs for that secondary action were awarded.
One problem faced by all the associations is that new owners or developers are (or claim to be) ignorant of the covenants. Gary Savage said that some years ago our association wrote to all the title companies to put them on notice that the restrictions existed.
We also check the Department of Buildings web site for new applications for permits and certificate of occupancies in our neighborhood. If one appears, we send a letter with a copy of the covenants to the owners, and ask for a copy of their plans. Most builders are willing to comply.
The three associations agreed that it would be particularly helpful for the
Buildings Department to add a "flag" in its database to identify properties
subject to covenants. This would
help homeowners and builders by ensuring that they are aware of the covenants,
and it would help the associations by reducing the likelihood that a violation
will occur and that an enforcement action will need to be initiated.
New Business �
There were three break-ins this summer: one on Morgan and two on Nassau Rd .
The schedule for our remaining meeting in 2013 is November 18. Please mark your calendars.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:00 PM.
Charles Manna, Secretary
To view meetings schedules click here