Preservation of natural habitats, rural character, farms and open space is the top priority of an overwhelming majority of respondents to a survey conducted this summer by the North Fork Civics, a coalition of seven hamlet-based civic groups looking to advocate for residents’ priorities for the future of Southold Town.
More than 1,000 people responded to the survey, which was conducted both online and with paper copies available at local libraries.
The top things respondents said they’d like to see the government do to limit overdevelopment were to limit subdivisions, the size of houses and new hotels.
When asked to expand on their concerns, residents left anonymous comments ranging from “Recent overdevelopment boom — too big houses, new hotels, too much traffic on weekends. Becoming like the Hamptons (ugh),” according to a Cutchogue resident, to “Many positive changes have occurred over the last 30 years. It is most important that the beauty and character of the North Fork be maintained and that preserving that character is a top priority. That means some hard choices about housing, development and traffic control. Kudos to all of those who have helped to maintain open space and agriculture,” according to a resident of the Southold-Peconic area.
“We went in with a completely open mind, and thought through the questions and how they were worded,” said Drianne Benner of the Orient Association, who serves as the coordinator of the North Fork Civics. “The results confirm what we talk about in our communities continuously. This is what people value, tremendously.”
“We didn’t have preconceived notions,” said Margaret Steinbugler of the Southold-Peconic Civic Association, who was instrumental in preparing the survey and analyzing the results. “I knew what was important to me, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that people share a lot of the same concerns and things they value about the area.”
“As an individual civic association, we had a sense people were concerned about a number of issues, but until we conducted the survey we didn’t know their relative importance to the community, or whether they were representative of the community,” she added. “This clarified for us the key concerns.”
Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association (MLCA) President Charles Gueli said the results were in line with a similar survey conducted by MLCA in 2018, though in the 2018 survey respondents placed a higher priority on water quality than this survey.
“Water is something people care about,” said Ms. Benner. “There’s probably a basket of issues that come and go, depending on what’s the headline issue of the day.”
“A lot of what we value in our communities and see as priorities for the future are quite related,” said Ms. Steinbugler. “I think there was a real strong theme of ‘what we like about Southold is what we’d like to preserve,’ and preservation touches on other issues — drinking water quality and quantity, the cleanliness of the bays and the Sound. They all touch on each other and are interrelated.”
Managing deer and tick-borne diseases, facilitating affordable housing and maintaining low real estate taxes also topped respondent concerns.
“Deer population is out of control and grows every year. Lyme disease needs to be stopped and deer are vermin that need to be controlled,” said one Orient resident in the comments section of the survey. “Lack of affordable housing and employment opportunities are major issues making it impossible for our children to stay in the community where they grew up” added another from the Mattituck-Laurel area.
The Southold-Peconic Civic Association discussed the results at their Oct. 26 meeting, as The Beacon was going to press.
The Orient Association plans to discuss the results of the survey at their Nov. 12 meeting, which is open to the public, at Poquatuck Hall on Village Lane from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association will not have a public meeting in November, but will likely discuss the results at their December meeting and use the results to plan informational meetings for 2023.
In addition to presenting hyperlocal data to individual civic associations, members of the civic coalition would like to present their results to the Southold Town Board at a work session.
“A side benefit of the North Fork Civic coalition is it’s created more of a presence for itself in the community,” said Mr. Gueli. “More people know it exists as a coalition. We hope the reception of the town to the results will be better than it would have been if it wasn’t a town-wide canvassing.”
“There’s a lot to learn about here,” said Ms. Benner. “It would be interesting to have one meeting where we present the results for the whole of Southold, and there may be opportunities for convening meetings that would be issue-based.”
She hopes the Southold Town Board will receive the results in the spirit of building support for initiatives the government is considering.
“We are a resource, and we are available,” she said.
The full results of the survey, including detailed graphs breaking down the data demographically and geographically, are online at nfcivics.org. — BHY