Mount Sinai Civic Association

The Role of the Civic

By Ann Becker

Your Civic Association plays a vital role in the Mount Sinai community, and has since it was established in 1916. We are involved in zoning issues, land preserva­tion, traffic calming, safety issues and educating the resi­dents about political, educational and social activities. The point of this article is to try to explain to community members that while we have had many spectacular suc­cesses as an organization, these victories came as a result of hard work, fortuitous funding and overwhelming community support.

According to the Constitution of the Mt. Sinai Civic Association, some objectives of our organization include acting to “promote, protect, encourage, and ad­vance interests, activities, and projects which will im­prove the area in which we live,” to “serve the community and individual members as an informational resource in matters .. , such as … zoning, variances, assessments, traf­fic, lighting, highway maintenance.” Other activities in­clude working with elected officials to promote these ob­jectives as well as secure funding for various community based projects and monitoring the actions of local politi­cal units such as the local school, fire and ambulance dis­trict.

In the course of fulfilling these and other objec­tives, the Executive Board receives countless inquiries and requests for help in many different situations. Nor­mally we are able to handle the situation or direct resi­dents to the proper authority. Some issues, however, are not within our power to address or resolve.

Land preservation and beautification have always been important to the Civic and our recent successes with the purchase of355 trees for Route 25A, the acquisition of the Chandler Estate as county parkland, and the Wedge for a central park came as a result of a providential align­ment of available funding, willing sellers, community re­solve and political expedience. Securing funding is the first obstacle, and grant writing can be time consuming and difficult. Residents, seeing those successes, may think that preserving land is commonplace – please be as­sured that it is not, for the following reason. Land owner­ship carries with it the right to sell, transfer, or develop property within the limits of the law and zoning regula­tions. Property is worth money, and owners are entitled to receive fair compensation for their assets. Property owners are also free to sell their land for development as they see fit, within the boundaries of zoning law. As with everything, the sale of land is a negotiation, and zoning

has important ramifications for the value of property. This is why the Civic is often at odds with landowners and developers who believe in maximizing the value of their land by increasing the density of projects, some­times to the detriment of the surrounding community. This is also why while we might advocate that property be developed in a certain way, we are not always able to select the type of business or development that we want in our community, but are subject to the market demand for certain establishments and the opportunity offered to the landowner.

One very visible case in point is the “Villages at Mount Sinai” project, built as The Ranches, Hamlet at Willow Creek and Timber Ridge Homes. Some newer residents may not realize that the Civic instituted a lawsuit against the Town of Brook­haven in 1995 and negotiated a settlement in 1997 which significantly reduced the density of that project, incorporated a golf course and country club, and secured a one-time donation of $1 0,000 per unit above the origi­nal allowable yield to the Mt. Sinai school district. This donation was in excess of two million dollars. In addition, the Civic secured a one-time donation of $200,000 which was used by the Town to subsidize the work being done on the park on the Wedge and make improvements to the MOD Center in Mt. Sinai. While the Civic had to raise over $40,000 to pay for the lawsuit, we felt it was necessary and justified. Again, the issue of land values and ownership rights played a part in the negotiation. In this case, because of the law­suit, the Civic played a pivotal role in the ultimate con­figuration of this huge development. This is not normally the case.

Recently the Civic was able to bring informa­tion regarding the increased use of condominium devel­opment in our area to the residents of Mount Sinai, and to school officials, who were able to use the information to take legal action to protect the district’s future tax base. The Civic also facilitated dialogue between groups within our community and local and state offi­cials regarding the issue of hunting in Mount Sinai Har­bor.

For further details or background on the role of the Civic, please become more involved by joining our membership and attending our meetings, joining Civic committees. Please remem­ber that while our role is vital, it does have limitations.