Editor’s Note: Southold Town holds a public hearing via Zoom at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on a proposal to use the power of eminent domain to take a piece of property on the corner of the Main Road and New Suffolk Avenue in Mattituck from the Brinkmann hardware store company for a public park — the Brinkmanns plan to build a large hardware store on the corner. Here’s more info on signing in to the public hearing, and here’s the agenda for the meeting. Former North Fork Environmental Council President Bill Toedter weighs in on the proposal below, and the Brinkmanns have garnered hundreds of signatures on a petition opposed to the proposal. We’re not expecting a decision today — stay tuned to our website for more details Tuesday evening.
Dear Town Board Members,
The names of Youngs, Hallock, Horton, Wells, and Tuthill aren’t just names in history books or on street signs. Those names, our founders’ descendants, still live amongst us. Their objective to come here, to build a life and stay here, wasn’t about getting rich. They were and are still here looking to work for, fight for and build a better life, a rich life. That’s what Southold Town was founded on some 380 years ago and is based on still today. It’s what residents look to pass on to their children and grandchildren. It’s all about quality of life.
While my family’s history here only goes back 90 years in Mattituck, there are lessons I was taught and learned along the way…chief amongst them, that once you lose something special you can’t get it back. That’s why for years I fought, with others, for clean water, land preservation, and the likes. It wasn’t just about protecting our natural resources, our health and well being. It was about protecting and continuing the community’s way of life, its quality of life.
I remember listening to many people talk about “the good ol’ days,” among them the late Bob Rothman, Sr, the late Howard Meinke, and the late Paul Stoutenburg. They helped to not only build the community but to make sure it did not lose what made Southold special. And when people come together with a vision, with passion, with caring, they can make a difference.
The North Fork doesn’t have several nuclear power plants in Jamesport because people came together. Southold doesn’t have box stores because people spoke out in one voice. And the hamlet of Mattituck came together and as a result there are no golden arches glowing in the night sky or a drive through at the local McDonalds. The people, the Town government and businesses came together and worked out differences to work with the community and its desires, not against them. They all sought to maintain our special character, our quality of life, before we lost it forever. It’s about being good, caring neighbors.
Southold is still a community of farms, farmers and fresh produce. It’s still home to marine waters, baymen and fresh seafood. There are still rural homes, rural roads and rural vistas. And none of this is by accident or complacency. These and many other aspects of Southold remain and thrive only through the hard work of residents, businesses and government leaders who speak out to protect and continue this way of life so residents can maintain their quality of life, even with many outside pressures and local changes ongoing. And those fights continue today around land use, land preservation and zoning.
With limited budgets and increasing demands stretching the Town’s resources, mistakes have been made along the way, such as not completing and enacting the revised master plan sooner. But let’s not be mistaken, the direction and spirit of the changes have been voiced by residents in each of the hamlets time and time again over the past seven plus years in public meetings and letters. The desire for green space preservation, of ensuring the safety of community roads and residents, of controlling growth, of meeting the needs of the local workforce as well as retirees, among other concerns have always been central to the design of the new master plan.
All too often, people and businesses come to Town, attracted by its rural character and beauty, but once here, want to radically change things rather than help maintain them. And while everything does change over time, the community’s voice should not, cannot be disregarded. Zoning and building codes cannot be ignored. Building setbacks, sanitary requirements, maximum building height and size requirements are meant to protect the community’s land, water and character and should not be waived or negotiated away except under extraordinary circumstances…and maybe not even then. It’s about protecting the quality of life, for everyone.
In those times when people or business entities don’t want to adhere to building or zoning codes, let alone community desires and standards, there are different tools at the community’s and Town’s disposal to address the situation when public meetings, negotiations, and even reasonable compromise don’t yield results. As the Town finds itself spending years to carefully draft a comprehensive plan that addresses the Town’s current and future vision as commented on by residents of each hamlet, it’s not unexpected that some may try to take advantage of gaps between current and new plans. And at such times, the community and Town must avail themselves of all possible tools to protect residents’ safety, the Town’s character and everyone’s quality of life.
Eminent domain is not a choice that is taken lightly. That’s attested to by the very few times such an action has been taken. But in this situation, when the community’s voice, options to compromise, negotiations, and even offers to purchase at above market price have been ignored, it leaves no other option to protect the community and the integrity of the master plan that has been years in the making. It’s an option that raises concerns. But as it’s an option that has been used sparingly, carefully, and with the greater concern of the community at its foundation, I’d hope that people would understand, respect and support its use in this case.
Remember, once the community loses what makes it special and keeps it vibrant and healthy today and into the future—such as its rich lands, its clean ground and marine waters, its rural character, and its quality of life, among other things—it can never get them back. Critical times call for critical actions. The Town has supported the public’s voice and now is the time the public should clearly and loudly support the Town’s actions in this matter. One Town. One future.
Past President North Fork Environmental Council
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