Equal Time: The Suffolk Times did readers a disservice

10/09/2015 11:33 AM |

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When The Suffolk Times’ editorial board misrepresents the efforts and opinions of a hamlet’s citizens, it does a disservice to its readership.

When the editorial board scapegoats hamlet residents who were active and engaged participants, did their homework, debated the pros and cons, and then voted to oppose a flawed development proposal, the editorial board disrespects the community.

Through last spring and summer, the membership of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association hosted four open-to-all meetings about a developer’s rezoning request on Main Road in our hamlet. Our purpose was to get first-hand information. In total, nearly 200 people attended. For the April 29 meeting, the civic association invited developer Paul Pawlowski to attend and he did. For 90 minutes he described his proposal and answered questions from a crowd of nearly 70 people. For the May 27 and June 24 meetings, we hosted Southold Town and other officials and experts who spoke and answered questions about land use and zoning in Mattituck and Laurel.

The fourth meeting was on July 29. For three hours on that Wednesday evening, 58 people discussed any and all of the rezoning request’s community, economic, environmental, housing and other impacts. People’s comments and opinions were captured on flipcharts and condensed into a two-page summary.

That summary was given to the Southold Town Board at its Sept. 22 public hearing on the rezoning request. We also shared the tally of a poll of our roughly 150 members. They were asked: “Do you want the Southold Town Board to change this zone from Residential (R-80) to Business (B)?” The result: 102 said “no” — they opposed the rezoning proposal. Nine supported it.

At the end of the hearing, one civic association member [me] asked the Town Board for a 14-day extension of the comment period so that more public opinion could be heard. Commendably, the board agreed. But three days later, on Sept. 25, with the public comment period still open, the developer withdrew the rezoning request.

Then, according to The Suffolk Times editorial “An unfortunate blow for affordable housing:” “Suddenly, other residents began voicing support for the earlier proposal on local news sites and social media, mostly saying they were in favor of the affordable housing component of the development. ‘It’s a real shame that the civic association couldn’t care less about affordable, workforce housing,’ wrote one Suffolk Times reader.”

The editorial goes on to describe the newly formed civic group as having “claimed its first victory … at the expense of an opportunity to create some workforce housing.”

With the words “claimed victory,” the editorial board misstates, misrepresents and misunderstands the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association’s purpose and what it has done in the past six months. The civic association wanted to know what residents thought about a significant rezoning proposal in their hamlet and sought first-hand information in an open, democratic process. What the civic association was told in public meetings, the civic association publicly documented and reported to the Town Board at a public hearing. If the editorial board disagrees with the information presented, then contest the information. But what does the community do if the editorial board values after-the-fact sniping more than hamlet residents seeking facts to inform their opinions?

As the voice of The Suffolk Times — which is headquartered in Mattituck — consider going beyond reporting on issues as important as affordable housing and become an active participant. Come to meetings, hear others’ opinions and share your own. A public process with open dialogue that respects others’ thoughts and positions leads to better decisions.

Meanwhile, the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association will continue to be guided by its members and the best interests of its community. The next time a significant public proposal is put before our hamlets, expect that we will respond just as we did this time: with an open, informative, democratic process to air the facts, hear how people feel and learn what they want. The process will be open to all and you are invited.

John Carter is a Mattituck resident and secretary of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association.

Photo caption: Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association president Mary Eisenstein addresses the board during a hearing on a proposed Mattituck development. The developer later withdrew his application.

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