HP

Westmoreland Association, Inc.
251-31 42nd Avenue, Little Neck, NY 11363 
ORGANIZED 1917 & INCORPORATED 1924
E-mail: westmoreland@littleneck.net

 

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Written Testimony of the Westmoreland Association, submitted to the
New York City Council's Housing & Buildings Committee
Regarding City Council Intro 280

Westmoreland Association concerns with NYC Department of Finance mechanism for registry of properties subject to protective covenants:

January 30, 2016

Hon. Paul Vallone
New York City Council
42-40 Bell Boulevard, Suite 507
Bayside, NY 11361

Dear Councilman Vallone:

We are grateful for your efforts on behalf of homeowners associations like ours that represent neighborhoods protected by restrictive covenants. We applauded your Intro 280, which would have required the Department of Buildings to maintain a publicly available registry of such covenants contained in property deeds.

We were initially pleased by your January 18, 2016 announcement of an agreement with the Department of Finance to create such a registry. But we were extremely disappointed when we had a chance to review the proposed DOF form through which information for the registry would be submitted. The form is so burdensome as to make the entire process almost useless. Specifically the form requires documentation which will be very difficult and/or expensive for any homeowners association to gather and submit.

1. Section II of the form requires that the Borough, Block and Lot number of each affected parcel be reported. This is completely reasonable, and is an eminently manageable burden. However, the form then goes on to require that the property's "legal description" be attached. We understand this to mean the “metes and bounds” description of each affected property as contained in the actual deed for that property. Gathering this information for the hundreds of properties protected by covenants in any given neighborhood would be extraordinarily burdensome and expensive. More to the point, it serves no useful purpose! The only purpose for the registry is to alert potential buyers or developers or builders of the existence of the covenants. The legal metes and bounds description of the property adds nothing of any value to that exercise. All it does is make it nearly impossible for the homeowners association to populate the registry. In short, this requirement alone fatally undermines the whole plan, which was very simple in its conception.

2. Section III of the form requires the Liber, Reel and Page where the restrictive covenants for the parcel are located. The same Section goes on to require that a copy of the document that established the covenants be attached. It appears that what is demanded here is the original deed for each subject property when the covenants were first imposed. Once again, this requirement puts the entire process effectively out of reach of most homeowners associations. In our Westmoreland community, for example, the original subdivision and sale of the parcels in question took place a century ago. Over 300 properties in our neighborhood are subject to the covenants. An enormous amount of research would be needed to gather this information for each such parcel.

I reiterate that this excessive documentation is not necessary to effectuate the legitimate objectives of your Intro 280. The purpose of the registry is simply to put people on notice that covenants exist. Their own title search companies should provide them the detailed information. (Of course, the title search companies should be identifying the existence of the covenants independent of the registry, but in our experience this does not always happen.) The DOF form effectively seeks to transfer the burden of doing a proper title search from the landowner or developer to the homeowners association; this is unacceptable.

One further concern is that the registry would be maintained by DOF, rather than the Department of Buildings as we originally proposed and as your Introl 280 would require. This, too, undermines the purpose of the registry. Most would-be developers or homeowners planning additional construction will necessarily visit the DOB website; they will have far less reason to visit the DOF website. That is why we suggested that the registry be maintained by DOB, and that there be a clear, simple “flag” on the DOB property record to alert persons to the existence of the covenants. (If the DOF insists on being the agency to maintain the registry, then the DOB website should provide a notice of that fact and a link to the registry.)

We could not be more disappointed by the City administration’s response to your efforts. We respectfully request that you work further with DOF and DOB to achieve a reasonable, effective and efficient registry that includes a “flag” in the DOB database.

Sincerely,


Walter Mugdan
President

cc: Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association
Douglas Manor Association

Westmoreland Association Opposes NY City Planning Commission's ZQA Proposal
and Endorses Councilmember Vallone's Resolution on Helicopter Noise

November 21, 2015

Hon. Paul Vallone
New York City Council
42-40 Bell Boulevard, Suite 507
Bayside, NY 11361

Dear Councilman Vallone:

We write to endorse the positions you have recently taken on two issues of considerable local importance the City Planning Commission's Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) text amendment proposal; and your resolution calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to amend the North Shore helicopter route to extend west to cover Northeast Queens.

These two issues were discussed at length during our General Membership meeting on November 21, 2015.  The members voted unanimously to endorse your FAA resolution; and voted unanimously (with one abstention) to oppose the ZQA.

As you know, the Westmoreland Association represents the Westmoreland community in the northeast corner of Queens County.  Our community is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south; Little Neck Parkway on the west; the Long Island Railroad on the north; and Nassau Road on the east.

ZQA

The ZQA proposal would amend the zoning rules to encourage larger building developments, and would increase the permissible floor-to-area ratio for certain kinds of developments.   Although well meaning and intended to address a legitimate concern, namely the lack of affordable housing in the City for senior citizens among others, the ZQA is misguided in its approach.  We in the Westmoreland Association, like the members of so many other civic associations throughout the residential areas of Queens and the other Boroughs, have worked for many years to maintain our quality of life and prevent the over-development of local communities.  We share the concern of our colleagues

Date: September 12, 2015
To: Housing & Buildings Committee, New York City Council
From: Westmoreland Association, Inc.

We write in strong support of Councilman Paul Vallone's Intro 280, a bill requiring the Department of Buildings to maintain a publicly available registry of restrictive covenants contained in property deeds.

The Westmoreland Association represents over 300 homeowners in the northeast corner of Queens County. The Association
's boundaries can be found at: http://www.littleneck.net/westmoreland/map.htm.  They extend roughly from Northern Boulevard on the south, to Little Neck Parkway on the west, to 39th Avenue on the north, to Nassau Road on the east.

Intro 280 is a simple and inexpensive measure that will be of great value to residents of Westmoreland and similar communities, and also to developers and others who propose residential or commercial construction within these communities.

Deeds of all the properties in the Westmoreland community, and similar communities like Broadway-Flushing and Douglaston Manor, include restrictive covenants. We call these our Protective Covenants because for over a century they have served to protect the character of our communities and our property values.

The City of New York and its Department of Buildings (DOB) are not legally authorized to administer or enforce our Covenants  only we can do that. Under the terms of Intro 280, however, DOB would maintain a publicly available registry providing notification that these specific parcels are subject to covenants in the deeds. That notification will be of great value to prospective developers as well as individual homeowners, reminding them to inform themselves about these covenants before they finalize their building plans.

This simple step can save the prospective builders and homeowners months or years of delay, and the huge costs associated with such delays. It will also save our associations and our many members the enormous effort, cost and aggravation of having to litigate to enforce the terms of our covenants against those who elect to ignore them, or who assert they were unaware of the existence of the covenants.

The Westmoreland community, like Broadway-Flushing and Douglaston Manor, was developed, in whole or in part, by the Rickert-Finlay company in the first two decades of the 20th century. At that time there were no municipal zoning rules in effect. The Rickert-Finlay company made the farsighted decision to incorporate covenants in the deeds of the properties it was offering for sale, recognizing that these would enhance and protect the character and value of the communities.

Among the covenants are several designed to ensure that the communities would maintain a welcoming and open ambiance. This was achieved by establishing a minimum 20-foot setback requirement for all residential properties, and also prohibiting the construction of fences or walls within the first 20 feet of the front property line, and the side property line for corner properties (hedges and shrubbery are permitted).

These covenants run with the land  that is, they are incorporated in the property deeds and pass from owner to owner. They are applicable to all owners in the chain of title. They remain applicable even if a deed in a given transaction erroneously copies the covenants, or even omits them entirely. A competent title search will always identify the covenants.

Nevertheless, with troubling frequency, unscrupulous builders elect to commence construction in knowing violation of a covenant, particularly the 20-foot setback requirement. (The New York City zoning rules applicable throughout most of our communities generally call for only for a 15-foot setback.1)

There are also occasions when builders or individual property owners embark on a project that does not comply with the covenants, and subsequently assert that they were unaware of the existence of the covenants.

As noted above, the City of New York and the DOB currently have no legal authority to enforce these covenants  that responsibility lies with our homeowner associations. Over the past century our associations have on multiple occasions each been called upon to do just that  to go to court in order to prevent or correct construction that does not comply with the covenants. WE HAVE BEEN CONSISTENTLY SUCCESSFUL IN THESE ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS, but they are invariably expensive and time-consuming, both for us as plaintiffs and for the builders or homeowners as defendants.

Intro 280 does not assign to the Buildings Department any responsibility to interpret, administer, apply or enforce those covenants. The bill merely provides a mechanism to notify owners, prospective purchasers and developers of the existence of the covenants.

Our only suggested revision to Intro 280 is that it be enhanced by requiring DOB to place a flag in its online database identifying parcels subject to restrictive covenants. The flag would simply direct users to the registry. Our covenants apply to entire city blocks, so identification of the lots subject to those covenants is simple.

We respectfully request that the Committee and the entire City Council support Intro 280, with the above-suggested enhancement.

Sincerely yours,


Walter Mugdan
President

cc: Hon. Paul Vallone
City Council District 19

1 R2A zoning, adopted in 2006 and applicable to parts of our communities, requires a greater setback as necessary to conform to the prevailing setback on the street.

Westmoreland Association Requests Speed Humps on Glenwood Street
Between 41st Drive and Northern Boulevard

January 19, 2014

Hon. Dalila Hall
Queens Borough Commissioner
New York City Department of Transportation
120-55 Queens Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Kew Gardens NY 11424

Dear Commissioner Hall:

The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners association representing the Westmoreland area of Little Neck in northeastern Queens. We write today to respectfully request that the New York City Transportation Department install one or two speed humps on Glenwood Street between 41st Drive and Northern Boulevard.

This block of Glenwood Street is often used as a thoroughfare by commuters and others seeking to bypass traffic on Northern Boulevard. The block in question is particularly long � as long as two standard blocks or more � and drivers tend to speed on this stretch. The street is home to many families with children who are endangered by the excessive speed of the cars.
.
Accordingly, at the November 18 general membership meeting of the Westmoreland Association a motion was passed to request installation of speed humps on this stretch of roadway.

We look forward to your early response.

Sincerely,

Walter Mugdan
President

cc: Hon. Paul Vallone, New York City Council
Hon. Ed Braunstein, New York State Assembly
Hon. Tony Avella, New York State Senate

Westmoreland Association Endorses Bike Path on Northern Boulevard
Between Cross Island Parkway and Little Neck

December 6, 2013

Hon. Maura McCarthy
Queens Borough Commissioner
NYC Department of Transportation
120-55 Queens Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Kew Gardens NY 11424

Dear Commissioner McCarthy:

The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners association representing the Westmoreland area of Little Neck in northeastern Queens. We write today to respectfully request consideration by the New York City Transportation Department of creation of a bike lane between our community and the nearest established part of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway/Bikeway.
The northern portion of the Bikeway runs south from the vicinity of the Throgs Neck Bridge, along the west side of Little Neck Bay, to Northern Boulevard. The path continues, through a series of picturesque and historic bike lanes, paths and sharrows to connect our corner of the City to Flushing Meadows/Corona Park and, ultimately, to Eastern Parkway, Prospect Park and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

The Bikeway is accessible from our Westmoreland district via Northern Boulevard/Rt.25A to entrances at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and the Cross Island Parkway (CIP). Though Northern Boulevard has capacity for three lanes of traffic in each direction between Douglaston and the CIP, and two lanes plus parking from Douglaston to the city line, plus a painted median strip, there is currently no accommodation for bicyclists on Northern Boulevard. The nearest detour is almost two miles and involves taking an unmarked route over hilly and highly trafficked streets. In other words, there is no safe, direct route by bicycle from our neighborhood to the Bikeway.

Accordingly, at the November 18 Westmoreland Association meeting, a resolution was passed to endorse the idea of a bike lane from the CIP east towards Little Neck Parkway, if possible, and at least to Douglaston Parkway. We look forward to working with you to develop a bicycle-inclusive plan that will enhance the transportation options for northeastern Queens.

Sincerely,

Walter Mugdan
President

cc: Hon. Paul Vallone, New York City Council-Member Elect

Westmoreland Association and two other Queens homeowners associations request
commitment from candidates for NYC elected offices:

To:     2013 Candidates for New York City Mayor, Queens Borough President, and New York City Council Member for District 19

 From: The Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association
           
The Douglas Manor Association
           
The Westmoreland Association

 Date:  September 29, 2013

 Dear Candidates:

We call upon you to commit, if elected, to work towards a simple and inexpensive measure that will be of considerable value to residents of our communities, and to developers and others who propose residential or commercial construction within these communities.

 As explained further below, each of our communities includes a significant number of properties that are subject to what are known as Restrictive Covenants contained within the deeds of these parcels.  We call these our Protective Covenants because for over a century they have served to protect the character of our communities and our property values.

 Our Simple Proposal, and How You Can Help:

The City of New York and its Department of Buildings (DOB) are currently not legally authorized to administer or enforce our Covenants � only we can do that.

 DOB can, however, provide a simple notification in its online database that these specific parcels are subject to covenants in the deeds.  That notification will be of great value to prospective developers as well as individual homeowners, reminding them to inform themselves about these covenants before they finalize their building plans.   

This simple step can save the prospective builders and homeowners months or years of delay, and the huge costs associated with such delays.  It will also save our associations and our many members the enormous effort, cost and aggravation of having to litigate to enforce the terms of our covenants against those who elect to ignore them, or who assert they were unaware of the existence of the covenants.

Background:

 Each of our communities was developed, in whole or in part, by the Rickert-Finlay company in the first two decades of the 20th century.  At that time there were no municipal zoning rules in effect.  The Rickert-Finlay company made the farsighted decision to incorporate covenants in the deeds of the properties it was offering for sale, recognizing that these would enhance and protect the character and value of the communities.

 Among the covenants are several designed to ensure that the communities would maintain a welcoming and open ambiance.  This was achieved by establishing a minimum 20-foot setback requirement for all residential properties, and also prohibiting the construction of fences or walls within the first 20 feet of the front property line, and the side property line for corner properties (hedges and shrubbery are permitted).

 Location of our Communities:

 The boundaries of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association can be found at: http://bfhassoc.org/physicalboundaries.html.   They extend roughly from Northern Boulevard and Crocheron Avenue on the south, to 155th Street on the west, 29th and 32nd Avenues on the north, and 170th Street on the east.  Some 500 properties here are subject to the covenants.

 The Douglas Manor Association covers most of the Douglaston peninsula north of Cherry Street and Bay Avenue.  Some 600 properties here are subject to the covenants.

 The boundaries of the Westmoreland Association can be found at: http://www.littleneck.net/westmoreland/map.htm.  They extend roughly from Northern Boulevard on the south, to Little Neck Parkway on the west, to 39th Avenue on the north, to Nassau Road on the east.  Over 300 properties here are subject to the covenants.

 Applicability of the Covenants:

In legal parlance, these covenants run with the land that is, they are incorporated in the property deeds and pass from owner to owner.  They are applicable to all owners in the chain of title.  They remain applicable even if a deed in a given transaction erroneously copies the covenants, or even omits them entirely.  A competent title search will always identify the covenants.

 Noncompliance with the Covenants: 

Nevertheless, from time-to-time unscrupulous builders elect to commence construction in knowing violation of a covenant, particularly the 20-foot setback requirement.  (The New York City zoning rules applicable throughout most of our communities generally call for only for a 15-foot setback.1) 

There are also occasions when builders or individual property owners embark on a project that does not comply with the covenants, and subsequently assert that they were unaware of the existence of the covenants.   

Enforcement of the Covenants

As noted above, the City of New York and the DOB currently have no legal authority to enforce these covenants  that responsibility lies with our homeowner associations.

Over the past century each of our associations has on multiple occasions been called upon to do just that to go to court in order to prevent or correct construction that does not comply with the covenants.  WE HAVE BEEN CONSISTENTLY SUCCESSFUL IN THESE ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS, but they are invariably expensive and time-consuming, both for us as plaintiffs and for the builders or homeowners as defendants.  

Our Simple Proposal

When elected, you can help to minimize the number of occasions on which this kind of costly litigation becomes necessary.

We ask that you pledge to work to have the NYC Department of Buildings include a flag in its online database identifying parcels subject to such restrictive covenants.  The flag will simply alert those proposing to build on one or more of these parcels that covenants may apply and should be researched before construction plans are finalized. 

Our covenants apply to entire city blocks, so identification of the lots subject to those covenants is simple.  It would, of course, be the responsibility of our associations to provide to DOB the specific City Block numbers in question.

This request asks only that DOB create a simple flag to alert those planning to build that restrictive covenants exist, thus encouraging the prospective builders to inform themselves about the terms and applicability of such covenants.  We are not proposing that DOB be assigned any responsibility to inform prospective builders about the terms of those covenants, nor that DOB would have any responsibility to interpret, administer, apply or enforce those covenants.

Our Request of You:

We ask that you pledge to work to implement our proposal.  We stand ready to assist you and the DOB towards this end, and to provide the information and documentation that may be necessary to implement it.  We thank you for your consideration and hope we can count on your support. We respectfully request the favor of a written reply prior to the general election.

Sincerely,     

_____________________            ______________________________                  _______________________

Walter Mugdan, President          Janet McCreesh, President                              Pauline Healy, President
Westmoreland Assoc.                 Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Assoc.       Douglas Manor Assoc.

1  R2A zoning, adopted in 2006 and applicable to parts of our communities, requires a greater setback as necessary to conform to the prevailing setback on the street.

Proposed Redevelopment of Former Scobee Diner Property, 252-29 Northern Boulevard

June 23, 2013

Hon. Helen Marshall

Queens Borough President,

120-55 Queens Boulevard

Kew Gardens, NY 11424 

Re: Public Hearing Scheduled for June 27, 2013:  CD- BSA# 339-12 BZ 11

Dear Borough President Marshall:

At its May 20, 2013 general membership meeting, the members of the Westmoreland Association reviewed and discussed the plans submitted for the above-referenced proposed redevelopment.  After extensive discussion, including consultation with two architects who are members, a motion to oppose the proposal in its current form was made; the motion passed with strong support (only two voting in opposition). 

While all our members are in favor of appropriate redevelopment of the site, our opposition to the current proposal is based primarily on traffic-related safety concerns.  The proposal is for a bank with a drive-through window on the first floor.  Ingress for the parking lot and the drive-through lane would be from Little Neck Parkway.  Egress from the drive-through lane and a separate exit lane for the parking lot would be to Northern Boulevard.  This is a potentially dangerous traffic pattern, with risks for vehicle traffic on Northern Boulevard and, particularly, for pedestrians on the Northern Boulevard sidewalk.  Drivers exiting from the applicant's property will have limited visibility given that the adjacent buildings on both sides will reach to the sidewalk. 

Applicant's proposed parking area is also an awkward configuration.  It provides insufficient space for both patrons and employees of the business establishments (a bank on the first floor and a so-called community facility, presumably a medical office, on the second).   What is more, all this is completely unnecessary.  The awkward configuration, the limited space, and the unsafe egress onto Northern Boulevard are all caused by the same absurd situation: the applicant's unwillingness to reach a sensible accommodation with the owner of the very large adjacent parking lot (see attached aerial photograph).

The portion of the applicant's property that is the specific subject of the requested variance is immediately adjacent to the large parking lot.  Customers of the former tenant of applicant's property, the Scobee Diner, were permitted to use the large parking lot, as are the customers of each of the other business that border the large parking lot.  Indeed, there there has in the past never been any visible delineation between the property of the large parking lot and the portion of the applicant's property that has for decades functioned as an undifferentiated part of that lot.

It is only because the applicant is unwilling to enter into an arrangement to allow patrons of its tenants to use the large parking lot that the applicant has had to devise the contorted and unsafe traffic pattern described above.  This lack of cooperation between the applicant and the owner of the large parking lot owner means that yet another curb-cut with yet another automobile entry would be required along Little Neck Parkway north of Northern Boulevard, adding to the two existing curb cuts and entry points that already exist for the large parking lot. This proliferation of curb cuts and entry points is another undesirable outcome and safety hazard.

We recognize that the requested variance has a limited purpose, i.e., to conform the zoning of a portion of applicant's property (currently zoned residential) to what has long been the actual use (commercial).  However, we urge your office and the Board of Standards and Appeals to use the opportunity of this variance request to insist on the only sensible outcome: namely, that the applicant arrange to use the adjacent large parking lot and thus obviate the need for a contorted and unsafe parking and traffic configuration on applicant's property.

Our members are also concerned about the impact of overflow parking under applicant's current proposal.  The number of parking spaces in the applicant's proposed plan is clearly insufficient to accommodate both patrons and employees of the tenant businesses.  Since the large adjacent parking lot would be unavailable to them, a significant number of additional vehicles would be parked in our residential community, exacerbating the overcrowded conditions already created by extensive and intensive use of on-street parking by Long Island Railroad commuters.

Finally, in addition to these concerns, our members also expressed disappointment that the site would be used for a bank and a so-called community facility, presumably a medical office.  This means that this major intersection in the heart of the business section of our community will be occupied on all four corners by facilities that are closed in the evenings, creating a sort of evening dead zone.  (The four corners would be occupied by two banks, a child daycare drop-off facility, and a funeral home.)  We recognize, however, that this is not a matter over which you have jurisdiction.

Thank you for the opportunity to voice our concerns about this matter of importance to our membership and the entire community.

Sincerely,

Walter Mugdan
President

Enclosure       

Text Box:

CD11 - BSA# 339-12 BZ, 252-29 Northern Boulevard, Little Neck, Queens.
Area outlined in red is the approximate location of the proposed development. 
Area outlined in yellow is the large parking lot immediately adjacent to the development site.

Westmoreland Association Position on new Traffic Configuration at LIRR Grade Crossing

November 21, 2010

Hon.  Maura McCarthy
Queens Borough Commissioner
NYC Department of Transportation
120-55 Queens Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Kew Gardens NY 11424 

Dear Commissioner McCarthy:

The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners association representing the Westmoreland area of Little Neck in northeastern Queens.  We write today to express our concerns about the new traffic pattern recently instituted by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) at the grade crossing adjacent to the Little Neck station of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR).

As you know, our organization held a meeting on November 15 at which the new traffic configuration was discussed.  I am sorry that you were not able to send a NYCDOT representative to the meeting, but I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me by telephone earlier that evening.  I shared with the attendees the information you provided to me about NYCDOT's plans for further adjustments to the configuration and signage.We had a large turnout for the meeting.  Attendees came from the Westmoreland section of Little Neck, which this Association represents (bounded generally by Northern Blvd. on the south; Little Neck Parkway on the west; the LIRR on the north; and Nassau Road on the east); and also from the portion of Little Neck north of the LIRR and the portion of Douglaston north of the LIRR.  These latter two neighborhoods are actually the areas  most directly affected by the new traffic pattern.  In addition, a representative of City Councilman Dan Halloran (John Mulvey) and the District Manager for Community Board 11 (Susan Seinfeld) also attended our meeting.

I believe it is fair to say that among the attendees the virtually unanimous and strongly held views about the new configuration were negative.  Many concerns were expressed, and examples of specific problems were given.  After more than 90 minutes of discussion, our guests from the non-Westmoreland communities departed and the members of the Westmoreland  Association then voted unanimously to authorize me to write you this letter expressing our specific concerns and requests.  These fall into two categories: procedural and substantive. 

Procedural Concerns

We are very disappointed that these significant changes, which directly affect literally thousands of people on a daily basis, were never once discussed with the community before being implemented.  You will recall that you attended a meeting of our organization over a year ago at which the installation of new crossing gates and institution of a quiet zone were discussed.  At that meeting there was also discussion of establishing better control of the entry to the LIRR parking lot (which has been carried out), but there was no mention of any significant configuration changes of the sort that have now been established.  We are also advised that Community Board 11 was unaware of plans to carry out these changes.

We believe it is essential that NYCDOT hold a public meeting in our community in the very near future to hear directly from the residents about their concerns, and to inform decisions about possible further adjustments.

Substantive Concerns

The establishment of the fixed median structure on the north side of the LIRR has, in our judgment, created more problems than it has solved.   We understand this construction to be another step in an effort that has extended over the past several years to eliminate the left turn from Little Neck Parkway (LNP) northbound onto Sandhill Road westbound.  You told me that the purpose is to avoid the possibility that a car waiting to make that turn could get stuck on the tracks when the gates come down.  To our knowledge there has never been such an accident between a vehicle and a train over the past century or more.  More to the point, however, we believe there are alternative and better ways to address this safety issue.  For example, signs could be installed on the south side of the LIRR tracks requiring all northbound vehicles (whether going straight or turning left) to come to a full stop before crossing the tracks.  That would add assurance that drivers turning left would first check to confirm Sandhill Road is open before making the turn.  A stop sign could also be installed just a few yards further south, on the south side of the intersection of LNP and 39th Road.  Thus, drivers would have to stop a short distance before arriving at the tracks, and then again at the tracks.  They would therefore arrive at the tracks at a slow speed, instead of at full speed. 

A particularly irksome and indeed dangerous effect of the new configuration is that those wishing to turn left onto Sandhill Road must now proceed north on Little Neck Parkway some distance beyond the tracks, and then make a U-turn.  The road is not wide enough for such a turn to be made in one movement; drivers must make a three-point turn to effectuate the U-turn motion.  During that time they block traffic in both directions; in particular, the can cause a backup in the northbound direction that can leave a driver stranded on the tracks  precisely the kind of hazard that the new configuration is supposed to prevent!  Many drivers making the turn now use the driveways of either the Armenian Center on the east, or the private residences on the west, which is an irritant to the residents.  They also block the sidewalk on the west side of Little Neck Parkway while making those turns.

A number of attendees indicated that they have observed left turns being made into Sandhill Road despite the new configuration.  The drivers apparently turn left by crossing to the north of the flexible plastic bollards that have been installed immediately south of the raised concrete median.  While this is an illegal movement, it is not uncommon.

Many people noted that the restriction on left turns was, during the past few years, limited to the morning and afternoon rush hours.  By contrast, with the new configuration the restriction is permanent and around the clock.  Local residents, for whom Sandhill Road is one of only two roads into the portion of Douglaston north of the LIRR, find this extremely inconvenient.  Residents of the portion of Little Neck north of the LIRR are similarly inconvenienced by the inability to turn left from Sandhill Road onto LNP northbound.

Residents were concerned that trucks making deliveries to the delicatessen at the corner of Sandhill & LNP now block the now much narrower roadway southbound on LNP.

Residents were concerned that snow plows will leave banks of snow on the sides of the north- and southbound lanes, further narrowing the effective width of those now divided lanes.

A number of individuals noted that because the sidewalk on the east side of LNP north of the LIRR ends abruptly about 20 feet north of the tracks, pedestrians coming south towards the station are forced to walk in the roadway.  Because the northbound lane is now so narrow (because of the raised median structure), there will be conflicts and possibly accidents with these pedestrians.

Other complaints and concerns were also voiced.

As noted above, we believe it is essential that you hold a public meeting in the community to hear first hand about residents concerns, and to consider whether and how to redesign the traffic pattern at this location in a way that better addresses the needs of the residents while adequately addressing safety issues.

Thank you for your consideration.  We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Walter Mugdan

President

cc:        Hon. Dan Halloran, New York City Council
            Susan Seinfeld, Community Board 11

Association Endorses Reform of
Community Facilities Section of NYC Zoning Resolution

December 3, 2007

Hon. Michael Bloomberg
Mayor
The City of New York
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg

We write to ask for your support for additional reforms to the Community Facilities section of the New York City zoning code. Specifically, we urge that the as of right bulk building bonus be reduced across the board by 75% (with any additional bonus available only by special permit subject to ULURP). We recommend that the number of facilities qualifying as Community Facilities be significantly reduced, eliminating, e.g., dormitories, faculty and student housing. Finally, it is important that community facilities be required to conform to the same height restrictions as are otherwise in effect within a given zoning district.

Among the primary purposes of zoning rules is the preservation of community character. The above-referenced reforms are essential to promote this objective. If our communities are overwhelmed by an excessive variety of community facilities, which exceed the very bulk and height limits intended to preserve neighborhood character, it is easy to see that this primary purpose of the zoning rules is forfeited.

The Westmoreland Association represents homeowners in the Westmoreland area of Little Neck, Queens  an area bounded roughly by Northern Boulevard on the south, Little Neck Parkway on the west, the Long Island Railroad on the north, and Nassau Road on the east. At our November 19, 2007 general membership meeting the membership voted unanimously to endorse these reforms, and to support City Council Member Tony Avella in his efforts to effectuate them.

Sincerely,

Walter Mugdan
President

cc: Hon. Amanda Burden, Chair, NYC Department of City Planning
Hon. Tony Avella, Chair, Zoning & Franchises, NYC Council

Statement of Walter Mugdan, President, Westmoreland Association
at a New York City Council Hearing on
Proposed Amendments Concerning the Bureau of Standards and Appeals

July 24, 2007

 The Westmoreland Association, Inc., is a not-for-profit homeowners association representing the interests of residents in the Westmoreland area of Little Neck, Queens, New York.  The area is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south, the Long Island Rail Road on the north, Little Neck Parkway on the west, and Nassau Road on the east.  (The Westmoreland development also includes a number of homes located in Great Neck, Nassau County, New York.)

 The Westmoreland area was developed starting in 1906 by the Rickert-Finlay Company, (RF) which subdivided the area into blocks and lots.  As each lot or group of lots was sold, a number restrictive covenants was included in the deed which would thereafter run with the land.  At the present time, some 330 homes are in the Westmoreland area

 The Westmoreland Association enthusiastically supports Int. 261/2006 by Council Members Avella, et al.  This legislation would effectively create an appeals process to the City Council from a decision of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). 

 It has been the sad experience of the Westmoreland Association that the BSA has, historically, been all too willing to grant the requests of developers for variances from the City's zoning requirements.  The granting of a variances should be the rare exception, and not the common outcome of a BSA proceeding. 

 The subject legislation would allow the City Council a body of elected representatives to review a decision of the BSA a body of appointed officials, not directly responsible to the electorate.  We believe this legislation will significantly assist homeowners and homeowners' associations such as the Westmoreland Association by enabling us to ask the Council to review BSA decisions that allow significant deviations from the Council's own duly adopted zoning and planning rules.  This appeals process will help to ensure that zoning rules are more faithfully observed, and that the character of neighborhoods protected by those rules is better maintained.

Statement of Walter Mugdan, President, Westmoreland Association
at a New York City Council Hearing on
Proposed Amendments Concerning the Bureau of Standards and Appeals

June 21, 2007 

The Westmoreland Association, Inc., is a not-for-profit homeowners' association representing the interests of residents in the Westmoreland area of Little Neck, Queens, New York.  The area is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south, the Long Island Rail Road on the north, Little Neck Parkway on the west, and Nassau Road on the east.  (The Westmoreland development also includes a number of homes located in Great Neck, Nassau County, New York.)

The Westmoreland area was developed starting in 1906 by the Rickert-Finlay Company, (RF) which subdivided the area into blocks and lots.  As each lot or group of lots was sold, a number restrictive covenants was included in the deed which would thereafter run with the land.  At the present time, some 330 homes are in the Westmoreland area

The Westmoreland Association enthusiastically supports Int. 262/2006 and 263/2006 by Council Members Avella, et al.  These are proposed amendments to the rules governing the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). 

It has been the sad experience of the Westmoreland Association that the BSA has, historically, been all too willing to grant the requests of developers for variances from the City's zoning requirements.  The granting of a variances should be the rare exception, and not the common outcome of a BSA proceeding. 

The above-referenced amendments would (a) require a two thirds majority of the BSA quorum present and voting to approve a variance, and (b) expand the BSA membership to include additional members appointed by the Borough Presidents, the Public Advocate, the Comptroller and the City Council.  We believe these amendments will significantly assist homeowners and homeowners' associations such as the Westmoreland Association in ensuring that legally applicable zoning rules are faithfully observed, and that the character of neighborhoods protected by those rules is better maintained.

 Text of May 27, 2007 Letter from Westmoreland Association to State Senator Frank Padavan and State Assemblyman James F. Brennan Regarding their Proposed Legislative Package to Improve Regulation and Enforcement of Development in New York City

Gentlemen:

The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners' association representing the Westmoreland area of Little Neck, Queens, in New York City.  This area is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south, Little Neck Parkway on the west, 39th Road on the north, and Nassau Road on the east.

At the organization's General Membership meeting of May 21, 2007 the members present voted unanimously to endorse the above-referenced package of legislation.  The bills in question include A7745/S5422; A7800/S5223; A7755/S5407; A7746/S4603; A7744/S5410; A7748/S5246; and A7747/S5441.

Our endorsement was qualified only to the extent our members expressed concern that some of these pieces of legislation do not go far enough to make needed changes in the practices of the Department of Buildings.  For example, there was consensus that: A7755/S5407 should apply to all violations, not just hazardous violations.  Similarly, our members felt that A7746/S4603 should  require, not merely allow DOB to refuse to accept filings from those found to have knowingly or negligently submitted false documents (at least for a specified period of time, e.g., four or five years).

Most important, there was a strong consensus among our members that A7745/S5422 should prohibit issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy not only until all fines and penalties are paid, but also until all violative conditions are fully corrected.  In our own community, the Department of Buildings last year issued a Certificate of Occupancy for a house that had knowingly been constructed nearly 20% closer to the sideline than permitted by zoning. Payment of a few thousand dollars in fines that may or may not have been imposed for this violation, without requiring the builder to correct the violation, is worse than useless, it actually makes a mockery of the zoning requirements.  Despite frequent complaints and requests from the adjacent homeowner, our organization and our New York City Councilman Tony Avella, the Department of Buildings never responded to our complaints about this violation, and never responded to any inquiries about why the Certificate was issued despite our repeated and timely complaints.

Nevertheless, we agree that there are valuable and important elements in the legislative package, which is why we unanimously endorse that package.  Among the elements our members thought most useful were the provision in A7745/S5422 empowering Community Boards to request up to 30 audits per year; and the technical assistance grant in A7747/S5441.

We thank you both for sponsoring this package of legislation.

Sincerely,

Walter Mugdan, President

Testimony of Walter Mugdan, President, Westmoreland Association, at New York State Assembly Hearing,

September 7, 2006

My name is Walter Mugdan.  I live at 251-31 42nd Avenue in Queens County.  I am appearing here today as President of the Westmoreland Association, a local homeowners Association established in 1917, representing a community in northeastern Queens. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about some of our concerns regarding the New York City Department of Buildings.  I ask your indulgence to allow me to make our  point by briefly outlining the facts of a problem that we have had with DOB for the past two and a half years. 

The problem concerns a new house built recently, located at 41-90 Morgan Street, Little Neck, NY 11363.

In late 2003 Saturn Development did a tear down and began construction of a new house in this R2-zoned area.  As soon as the construction fence went up, the next-door neighbor, Mr. Tom Lloyd, alerted the developer that the construction fence between the two properties was situated on Lloyds side of the line.  Mr. Lloyd showed him a survey from the 1960s to support his position.  The developer refused to move the fence, intimating that Lloyds survey was incorrect. 

Mr. Lloyd promptly hired a surveyor at his own expense.  The new survey was conducted in early February, 2004.  By that time, the foundation of the new house was in.  The new survey confirmed that the fence was on Lloyds side of the line, and furthermore showed that the foundation was too close to the side line.  The R2 zoning requires a minimum five foot sideline setback.  The new foundation was at about 4" 4" from the sideline.  

Mr. Lloyd immediately sent a copy of that survey to the developer.  As president of the local homeowners association, I also wrote to the developer, with a copy to Mr. Magdi Mossad, then Queens Borough Commissioner for DOB.  The developer moved the construction fence to his side of the line, but otherwise ignored the correspondence and proceeded to complete construction of the house, while knowing of  but without curing  the violation.

It is our position that this setback violation is not de minimis: the house is nearly 15% closer to the neighboring property than allowed by the zoning. (Parenthetically, the developer also used every loophole that DOB tolerates to make the house as big as possible, including characterizing a full-sized bedroom on the 2nd floor as an attic.)

In early April, 2004  I got a reply from the DOB Queens Deputy Borough Commissioner, Derek Lee.  Mr. Lee wrote, the side yard of the new building will be verified with the required survey.  If the final survey is not received, the final certificate of occupancy will not be issued to the building.

The developer finished the house and, as we later learned, submitted his final survey in Spring, 2005.  It confirmed completely what the neighbor's survey had shown a year earlier.  

We learned of this in the beginning of  June, 2005, and I wrote to Boro Commissioner Mossad again.  By the end of June we had not gotten a reply, and I wrote yet again.  I expressed our strong opposition to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for this house, which was built in knowing violation of the side setback requirements of the applicable zoning regulations.  We asked again for a reply, bur received no response to  either letter.

At the suggestion of our local Community Board, I then contacted a DOB community relations officer, with whom I spoke by phone.  He said the side setback issue was unresolved, but there was a flag on the file.  He said the Certificate of Occupancy should not be issued without a resolution.

We heard nothing further for about 8 months.  In May, 2006 I wrote to Derek Lee, now Queens Boro Commissioner.  I said it had come to our attention that a new survey might have very recently been filed for the property (though we had no confirmation of this and had not seen any such survey).  We again requested that no Certificate of Occupancy be issued, given the developer's knowing and non-de minimis violation of the zoning requirements.  We got no reply to this letter, either.

In June I spoke again by phone with the DOB community affairs officer.  He again advised that the side setback violation remained unresolved in the computer file, and he confirmed that a Certificate of Occupancy should not be issued while the violation is unresolved.

During this entire period, the neighbor, Mr. Lloyd, also wrote numerous times to DOB.  So did our City Councilman, Tony Avella.  Mr. Lloyd received no replies, and to my knowledge Mr. Avella did not receive any replies either, or at least not a substantive reply.

Two weeks ago Mr. Lloyd, saw that someone was moving into the house.  He checked the DOB online records, as we both had been doing every few months.  He learned that, although the side setback violation remains unresolved, nevertheless a Certificate of Occupancy was issued in July.

I have taken the liberty of sharing this story with you to illustrate that the Department of Buildings has been entirely unresponsive to a private citizen directly affected by a significant violation; to a homeowners association; and to a local elected official.  Despite being fully aware of the problem, DOB ignored our legitimate concerns and  without even the courtesy of informing us  issued the Certificate of Occupancy to a scofflaw developer who built a million-dollar house at his own risk, while being fully informed of the setback violation.

We are happy to have a fine new neighbor now living in this house; but we are most unhappy about the developer's behavior, and the indifference and unresponsiveness of the DOB.

 A very troublesome post-script to this story is that not one person with whom I've discussed the matter has expressed any surprise at all.  Why?  Because nobody with any knowledge of the DOB expected the Department to behave any better than it did.  That is very disturbing.  

Testimony of Walter Mugdan, President of the Westmoreland Association, Before the New York City Council Zoning Committee

December 14, 2006

Concerning the Proposed Rezoning of Certain Portions of Little Neck and Douglaston, Queens

My name is Walter Mugdan.  I serve as president of the Westmoreland Association, a homeowners association which represent about 335 homes in the Westmoreland section of Little Neck.  About 85% of these homes are located within the current New York City R2 zone.                     

The Westmoreland Association strongly and enthusiastically supports the proposal to rezone all of our R2 areas to the new R2A designation.  We have had a lot of concerns with demolition of existing houses and replacement with over-sized houses, often called McMansions.  We believe the R2A designation will help maintain the character of our neighborhood and limit the severe over-building of  recent years in our area and neighboring communities.

I would like to take a moment to explain to you how the Westmoreland Association developed its position on this matter, because I think the process is important in weighing the outcome. 

When the R2A rezoning for our area was originally proposed some 21 months ago, we distributed to every house a flyer announcing the proposal, saying it would affect most homes in our area and would be discussed at our March 2005 meeting.   That meeting was well attended nearly 20% of the affected households were represented. 

At the meeting we had a presentation by City Councilman Tony Avella.  We distributed fact sheets with copies from the New York City Planning Department web site.  Additional information was provided by two architects from our community (one a member of our Board of Directors).  At the end of the extended discussion, a motion carried unanimously that the Association go on record to support the R2A rezoning. 

As always, minutes of the  meeting were posted on our web site.  We also posted a detailed description of the proposal, with links to the City Planning Department website.

We have discussed the proposal again at each of our six subsequent meetings (May, September and November, 2005, and March,  May and September, 2006).  At every  meeting, I urged individuals to make their views  pro or con  known to the relevant government officials.

At our September `05 meeting I explained that the City Planning Department had asked the civic associations representing the Douglaston-Little Neck area to work together in an effort to provide a consensus position on the rezoning plan.  We distributed copies of the Department's detailed draft map.  A motion carried unanimously authorizing me to work with the other civic groups and the Department to further the R2A rezoning proposal. 

At the November `05 meeting, I proposed to write to our local newspaper, The Little Neck Ledger, expressing concern over misinformation about the R2A proposal that was then being circulated in another community.  The attendees voiced unanimous support, and I wrote that letter.

At our September 06 meeting I reported on the hearing held earlier that month by Community Board 11, and stated that I would be testifying at additional hearings on the issue, including this one before the City Council Zoning Committee; all present were again supportive.

I believe it is important for you to understand that our members have had ample and extensive opportunity to learn about, and be heard concerning the R2A rezoning proposal.  The issue has been discussed at seven consecutive meetings of the organization, and details are available on our web site along with our meeting minutes.  The sense of our membership, as expressed at every meeting, and in two formal votes taken months apart, was unanimous in support of the rezoning plan.

We respectfully request that the City Council Zoning Committee formally endorse this rezoning proposal, which is so important to the protection of our neighborhood. 

Thank you.

 Statement of Walter Mugdan, President, Westmoreland Association
at a New York City Council Hearing on a Proposed Amendment to
New York City�s Administrative Code

June 15, 2005

The Westmoreland Association, Inc., is a not-for-profit homeowners association representing the interests of residents in the Westmoreland area of Little Neck, Queens, New York.  The area is bounded generally by Northern Boulevard on the south, the Long Island Rail Road on the north, Little Neck Parkway on the west, and Nassau Road on the east.  (The Westmoreland development also includes a number of homes located in Great Neck, Nassau County, New York.)

The Westmoreland area was developed starting in 1906 by the Rickert-Finlay Company,  (RF) which subdivided the area into blocks and lots.  As each lot or group of lots was sold, a number restrictive covenants was included in the deed which would thereafter run with the land.  A copy of those covenants, which are included in the deeds of all properties within the Westmoreland development, is attached.  At the present time, some 330 homes are in the Westmoreland area

Among the primary purposes for the establishment of the Westmoreland Association is monitoring compliance with and, when necessary, enforcing the provisions of these restrictive covenants. . During the past century the Westmoreland Association has on at least four separate occasions had to go to court to enforce the covenants.  These have been extremely expensive endeavors, severely taxing the limited resources of our small community.  That we have repeatedly invested the necessary funds and effort demonstrates that these covenants are a prized property right of the residents in our development; indeed, we call them protective rather than restrictive covenants, because the protect our property values and quality of life.

The Westmoreland Association enthusiastically supports Int. No. 15 by Council Members Avella, et al.  This proposed amendment of the New York City administrative Code would require the City's Department of Buildings to require compliance with restrictive covenants such as ours when issuing permits, provided that such covenants have been duly filed with the Department. 

 Enactment of this amendment will significantly assist homeowners and homeowners associations such as the Westmoreland Association in ensuring that legally applicable covenants are faithfully observed, and that the character of neighborhoods protected by such covenants is maintained as envisioned by the original grantors.  We urge the New York City Council to pass this legislation.

 

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