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 expediency. 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 the 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.