State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and homeowner association leaders joined forces in front of his Bell Boulevard office on Friday to promote a new piece of legislation that would help keep the character of Queens’ neighborhoods from diminishing.
Avella is introducing legislation in Albany that would require homeowners whose properties are restricted by covenants to register their homes with the Department of Buildings, which in turn would have to review deed registries prior to issuing building permits.
As some communities in Flushing and Douglaston were being built, city planners and homeowners had a certain idea for how they should look. Covenants are a way of ensuring future developers do not change that vision.
In past years, these restrictions have not been followed and local groups have fought back.
“Why should these homeowner groups be doing the job of the city?” Avella asked. “They’re doing the city’s work.”
Civic leaders praised Avella for his participation, and echoed his concerns.
“We are the ones fighting for covenants in our neighborhoods,” said Mel Siegel, president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association. “Every time there’s a violation, we need to scrape up the money to go to court.”
Henry Euler, second vice president of the Auburndale Improvement Association, said the legislation will help with enforcement.
Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society President Bob Coddington said the legislation is “long overdue in my estimation.”
When a developer is going against a covenant, the homeowners associations are often the ones that sue to stop the work. The restrictions vary. For example, some homes are not allowed to have fences or walls within 20 feet of the property. Other lawsuits may be the result of developers wanting to subdivide property, which is legal under city zoning rules, but do not abide by the covenant restrictions.
Avella pointed out that residents respond a particular way when asked where they are from.
“They don’t say Queens. They say neighborhoods,” he said. “[The covenants] preserve the character and uniqueness of our neighborhoods.”
Many of the leaders have said that their neighborhoods have changed over the years and they have to look out for building permits to see if they correspond with the restrictions of the covenant.
Because builders aren’t abiding by the covenants, neighborhoods are losing the suburban-like quality city planners had envisioned. It’s that very quality that attracted Sheldon Rosenblum, vice president of the Westmoreland Association in Little Neck, to his neighborhood 35 years ago. The streets were always empty he said.
“Now, we come home at night, you can’t park,” Rosenblum said.
Even landmarked area residents are concerned.
“Douglas Manor Association is a landmark,” said Jamie Sutherland, secretary of the group. “Our deed restrictions are vital to our landmark.”