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Minutes of the General Membership Meeting of the Westmoreland Association
September 21, 2015
President – Walter Mugdan
Vice President -- Victor Dadras
Board Members Present
Ahmed Nazaar from NYC Councilman Vallone’s office
Amber Yoon from NYS Assemblyman Braunstein's office
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.)
Walter Mugdan read Gary Savage's Treasurer’s Report indicating that the balance-on-hand was $20,159.50 as of Sept. 21, 2015. A motion was made to accept the Treasurer’s report. The motion was seconded and the report was unanimously approved.
Old Business –
Library Renovations: John Duane, Victor Dadras and Ahmed Nazaar reported on progress of renovation and improvement plans for the Little Neck-Douglaston Branch of the Queens Library. The funding for this work is in place. The work will be carried out by the NYC Department of Design & Construction. (The possibility of funding an entirely new library facility will be considered again in future budget years.)
Legislation Concerning Protective Covenants: Walter Mugdan reported, as summarized in the meeting invitation letter, that NYC Councilman Paul Vallone introduced a bill (Intro 280) that would require the City Department of Buildings to maintain a publicly available registry of restrictive covenants that are filed with the Department. All deeds for properties in the Westmoreland Community containing such covenants. (We call them “protective covenants” because they protect our property values and the character of the neighborhood.) Under the bill, a covenant may be filed with the Buildings Department by the property owner or by a neighborhood or civic association such as ours. The bill can be found at: http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1709725&GUID=289C3B00-63DF-4A31-A862-80AF81D61F2F&Options=&Search=
In introducing this bill, Councilman Vallone was working to fulfill a commitment he made in 2013 when he ran for office. At that time, our Association, along with the Douglas Manor and Broadway-Flushing Associations, asked all the candidates to promote a bill like this, and Councilman Vallone promised to do so.
Walter explained that the legislation did not include one element that our September 2013 letter had requested, which is a "flag" on each affected property record on the Buildings Dep't. website providing notice that restrictive covenants exist, and directing the user to the registry. Walter and the other Westmoreland officers were unavailable to attend the hearing on the bill scheduled for September 16 before the Council's Housing & Buildings Committee. However, Walter submitted written testimony on behalf of the Association endorsing the bill but asking that the "flag" element be added.
Ahmed Nazaar reported that the legislation was well received at the hearing, with support from a number of civic groups (including ours).
Walter also noted that a bill on the same subject introduced last year in the NYS legislature by State Senator Avella included not only a registry and flag requirement, but also directed the Buildings Department to enforce the restrictive covenants. Some stakeholders have criticized the Vallone bill for not including the enforcement provision, and have declined to endorse it for that reason. Walter observed that the Westmoreland Association supports the Avella bill, but that the enforcement provision goes beyond what we requested of the NYC Council candidates in September 2013. He therefore felt it was appropriate for us to endorse the Vallone bill (with the request that the flag provision be added.) Walter noted that there is also a legitimate argument to be made that, as a matter of good public policy, a governmental entity should not be tasked with the responsibility of enforcing a private right (such as a restrictive covenant). Indeed, in the more distant past, some restrictive covenants were explicitly counter to good public policy, such as covenants seeking to prevent homes from being sold to non-white purchasers. Such as covenants were later declared by courts to be invalid, but the point remains that there could be private covenants that advance objectives which are in conflict with those of the general objective. It would be arguably inappropriate for the government to be required to enforce such covenants. However, the mere provision of notice of the existence of the covenants is a clear benefit to developers, builders, homeowners and affected communities; and represents only a minor burden on the government, without implicating the policy considerations outlined above.
Ahmed Nazaar reported that the Buildings Department opposes the Vallone bill, and also argued that if any city agency were to maintain a registry of covenants it should be the City Finance Department. Councilman Vallone will be discussing this issue with City Hall. Walter expressed the strong opinions of the Westmoreland Association that the responsibility should remain with the Buildings Department, because it is the DOB website that all developers, builders, etc., must consult before carrying out any significant construction work. The fundamental purpose of the bill -- notification -- would not be fulfilled (or at least not well) by having the registry in the Finance Department.
Walter encouraged members to reach their own conclusions about the legislation and express their opinions by writing to Councilman Vallone by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to his office at 42-40 Bell Blvd., Suite 507, Bayside, NY 11361.
43-20 Glenwood: As reported at the May, 2015 meeting, the Buildings Department permit issued for this property was for renovation of the existing structure, not a tear-down and rebuild. However, the roof, the second floor and the first floor were completely removed. Evidently, the builder saved a few old pieces of the old framing and integrated it into the new construction. Walter noted that, on behalf of the Association, he had called 3-1-1 in May to report the apparent violations; at least two other members had also done so. Victor Dadras reported that DOB issued a Stop Work Order, which remains in effect at this time. The owner will presumably have to file entirely new permit applications for new construction.
New Business –
Obligations regarding retaining walls. A member raised a question about which of two neighboring property owners is responsible for a necessary retaining wall when one property is higher than the other. He reported that a new house was recently build on the property adjoining his backyard. In connection with the new construction, the neighboring backyard grade was raised so it is a foot or two higher than his backyard. The neighbor built a sort of retaining wall by stacking cinder blocks two high along the boundary of the properties. The cinder blocks were not cemented, but merely placed. They were installed adjacent to and leaning against the stockade fence at the back boundary of his property. Under the weight of the soil in the neighboring property, the cinder blocks caused damage to his fence. He discussed it with the neighbor, who proposed that they share the cost of building a proper retaining wall. He questioned whether he had any responsibility for this, or whether it was entirely the neighbor's responsibility. Victor Dadras and Phil Toscano, both architects, and Walter Mugdan shared some suggestions. Based on the information provided, they opined that the responsibility would presumably be that of the neighbor. Victor and Phil also suggested that he report the matter to the Buildings Department, which does regulate retaining walls.
Street Trees: Walter Mueller reported that a large limb from a street tree in front of his house came down during a storm on July 20. He reported it through 3-1-1, but the Parks Department didn't respond for about 6 weeks. In the meantime, after the limb laid on his lawn for weeks, he finally had his own landscaper cut up and remove the limb. When the Parks Department finally responded the limb was gone. In addition, the power cable serving his house and his neighbors is touching the stem of the tree, which could cause damage to the cable. He reported this to Con Edison, which purportedly inspected and found no problem. It was suggested that he contact Con Ed again with photos to show the condition.
Graffiti: Members reported recent graffiti on the side of Rachel's Hair Salon, a commercial establishment on the corner of Morgan and Northern Boulevard. Member Roger Grothman agreed to speak with the business owner to advise (a) that the graffiti should be reported to the police as soon as it happens, and (b) the graffiti should be painted over as soon as the police check it out, or after documenting it by photographs that the police can use. Roger subsequently reported that he had done so, that the business owner had agreed, and that a police officer was scheduled to visit the location on September 23.
The next meeting will be held November 16, 2015.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:30 PM.
Minutes prepared by Walter Mugdan
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