As North Fork Booms, Mattituck Debates its Future
by Beth Young
Like much of the North Fork, the hamlet of Mattituck is currently experiencing a surge in popularity, and with that comes an inevitable discussion on the best ways for a community to grow.
Mattituck is known for its distinct central boutique shopping district around Love Lane and the vast expanses of farmland surrounding its business district, but it also contains a sprawling stretch of highway along the Main Road, just east of the gateway to Southold Town.
The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association hosted a major forum on May 20 at the Mattituck-Laurel Library on “Maintaining Rural Character While Planning for Strategic Growth.”
The forum provided a background of past attempts to guide the growth of the hamlet of Mattituck and guidance for a future series of ten monthly meetings about various aspects of planning for the future of the community.
“Our premise was, we have people who come from all backgrounds, but we exist in our own silo,” said MLCA President Mary Eisenstein. “We wanted to have panel members talk about what they do through that prism, of maintaining rural character while planning for strategic growth.”
The panelists included State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, Southold Town Councilman William Ruland, Dan Heston and Tim Caufield of the Peconic Land Trust, Prudence Wickham of Salt-Aire Farm, Alie Shaper of the Long Island Wine Council, Abigail Field of the North Fork Promotion Council, Mattituck builder Paul Pawlowski, architect Anthony Portillo, and Grants Office CEO Michael Paddock.
The forum kicked off with the premiere of MLCA’s short film, “The Intersection,” about the dangers at the intersection of the Main Road, Love Lane and Old Sound Avenue, on a blind curve in the center of the town.
The six-minute film, culled from more than four hours of footage at the intersection, gives an overview of some of the worst behavior there — drivers who make U-turns in the middle of the intersection or pull out into traffic in order to make a left hand turn, wrong-way drivers on the one-way Old Sound Avenue and bicyclists traveling the wrong way head-on into the traffic mess.
MLCA has asked Southold Town and the State Department of Transportation, which owns the Main Road, to look into several traffic calming measures at the intersection, including installing a stop sign and raised median for traffic turning right onto Love Lane or heading straight on Old Sound Avenue, prohibiting left hand turns onto the Main Road from Love Lane and installing pedestrian crosswalks across Love Lane, Old Sound Avenue, and across other nearby intersections at New Suffolk and Wickham avenues.
Mr. Palumbo said he hopes to see development in Mattituck be contained to the hamlet business district in the middle of town, and pledged to do what he can, as a state representative, to help with the traffic calming project. His law office is just a few hundred feet from the intersection, he said, and he is well aware of the dangers to pedestrians and drivers there.
Mr. Ruland urged members of the community to come out for public hearings on the town’s land use chapter of its comprehensive plan.
Mr. Caufield, of the Peconic Land Trust, said the Land Trust has been involved in “several thousand projects” and added that “different ranges of housing is something the Land Trust clearly wants to get involved in.”
Mr. Pawlowski, who had proposed a workforce housing complex just west of Mattituck’s Main Road commercial center, said Southold “desperately needs affordable housing.”
He said he hopes to get the “support of everyone behind the workforce housing movement.”
“It can’t just be ‘not my problem.’ You really have to get behind it. It’s the only way it’s gonna happen,” he said.
Mr. Heston said the Land Trust gives 10 new farmers leases of one acre of land at Southold’s Charnews Farm each year, providing deer fencing, irrigation and mentoring “for a reasonable rate that new people can afford.”
He said most applicants are either in their 20s, right out of college, or are 49 years old and embarking on a second career.
“We’ve had some successes,” he said. “It gives people the opportunity to try it out.”
His wife, Prudence Wickham Heston, talked about the history of her family’s farm, which was the largest supplier of broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts seed in the world until they were shut out of some global seed markets due to World War II. Her family then began growing fruit, on land that’s now well-known regionally as Wickham’s Fruit Farm.
She and Mr. Heston grow specialty products for weddings at their Salt Aire Farm adjacent to the family fruit farm. Ms. Wickham said she grows such things as blueberry flower sprigs for wedding place settings, flowers and honey for guest favors.
“The type of farming being done is not nearly as important as keeping the land in farming,” she said. “Don’t be so tight as to what it is that has to be happening on that land. You want it to continue as farmland.”
Alie Shaper, of the Long Island Wine Council, said the wine council has a new mission to be a “responsible, reliable partner with the greater community.”
As the winemaker at Brooklyn Oenology, she said she hopes to see wine taken seriously as an industry.
“It’s complex, involved work that requires a lot of specialists,” she said.
Abigail Field of the North Fork Promotion Council, told the crowd that small businesses need support, and pointed out that the North Fork’s hotels “run at a little under 50 percent capacity, year-round.”
“Mid-week in the summer, not all the beds are full,” she said.
Anthony Portillo, who graduated from Mattituck High School in 2000, left town to become an architect and just came home to set up practice here, said he thinks Mattituck can learn from the idea of New Urbanism, a design principle centered around walkable places and traditional neighborhood structures.
He said slowing down traffic and adding green spaces are key to creating these walkable neighborhoods.
Michael Paddock, who came to Mattituck from Rochester to discuss the grant process, explained the various ways government entities and non-profits can work together to get state and federal funding.
Ms. Eisenstein gave the crowd an overview of the ten principles of strategic growth, which include calming traffic patterns, creating a pedestrian walkable hamlet, transportation choices, fostering distinctive and aesthetically attractive development, strengthening the local economy, mixed land uses, providing a range of housing opportunities, preserving open space and farmland, directing development toward existing areas and encouraging community collaboration in development decisions.
Each topic will be the focus, in turn, of 10 monthly MLCA meetings.
The first of those topics, said Ms. Eisensteing, will be transportation, because this is a topic that Southold Town is currently addressing in its comprehensive plan.
“We’ll be discussing things like bike racks, bike lanes and making this a walkable community,” she said.
More details are on MLCA’s website.