OUR MISSION and HISTORY
Whether you just moved in, or you've lived here for years,
we want you to feel welcome in the Westmoreland community.
If you are new in town we want to introduce ourselves,
and if you've been here a while, we want to remind you who we are.
We would like you to be a part of our efforts to help keep
Westmoreland such a fine place to live.
Your support can be very important!
Click here for a photo tour of the Westmoreland area!
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
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 330 or more homes in the area were built between 1905 and 1930. A majority of the homes are in Queens County, but over 20% are in Nassau County. Regardless of which side of the County line a home is in, the title of every property in Westmoreland can be traced back to when Rickert-Finlay bought it from the Wooleys.
What Makes Our Land So Special: Our Protective Covenants
In the early days there were no zoning laws in New York or most 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, the Rickert-Finlay company figured out a way to address that need. They provided the new Westmoreland community with a way 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 that Rickert-Finlay sold had a set of protective covenants and restrictions included as part of the title and deed. These were rules, similar to later zoning rules, that "run with the land." This means they apply to every successive buyer of property in the Westmoreland area. They were incorporated in your deed when you bought your property (even if you weren't told about them, and even if they weren't shown in writing in your deed). 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.
Photos thanks to Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society
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 can be built.
But most of our Covenants are still as important and relevant today as they were when Rickert-Finlay wrote them. For example, 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'.
Covenants #9 and #10 establish 20 foot minimum "set-back" distances from the front property line (usually that's about where the sidewalk meets the street), and also from the side property line 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 friendly and inviting 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.
Several other communities in Queens -- including Douglas Manor and Broadway-Flushing -- were also developed by the Rickert-Finlay Company, and are protected by similar Covenants. Like the residents of the Westmoreland community, the residents of these two communities value the Covenants and work hard through their homeonwers associations to defent and protect them.
Are the Covenants Really Still Needed?
Some people wonder whether our protective Covenants are still necessary, since New York City and Nassau County 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.
* With strong encouragement from the Westmoreland Association, in 2006 NYC re-zoned most - but not all - of the Queens portion of our community. For new construction in the new "R2A" zone, the front yard must be as deep as an adjacent front yard, with a minimum setback of 15 feet. In our community, thanks to our covenants, the adjacent homes will be set back at least 20 feet.
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 cannot and will not enforce them for us.
What Does It Mean "To Defend Our Covenants" - Who Does That?
That's where the 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. To see examples of how the Westmoreland Association has successfully enforced the Covenants in the past, click on the Covenants tab.
It's Your Association Too -- Please Become Active!
Everyone who owns property in the Westmoreland community is automatically a member of the Westmoreland Association, as of right. Like any volunteer group, it is only as effective as its active members. We hold four meetings each year, on the third Monday in September, November, March and May, at the Little Neck Community Church (46-16 Little Neck Parkway). It's 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 our protective Covenants and the zoning rules 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 (listed here).
Please also help by paying your dues. They are minimal - just $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!
If you'd like to learn more about the history of our area, visit the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society web site.
To learn more about the geography of our area and the nearby nature preserve, visit the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee web site.