Residents are forming a new civic association to represent Southold and Peconic hamlets.
Organizing members say the communities are the only two in Southold Town to lack a civic group. Around 50 residents gathered last Thursday for the association’s first meeting at the Southold Town Recreation Center, to organize and discuss priorities.
“It’s clear to me that people who live here are energized around some issues, anxious about them, concerned, want to do something, but they don’t necessarily know what to do. Nor did I,” said Margaret Steinbugler, an organizing member. “With a civic association, we can prioritize what’s most important to us.”
Mary Eisenstein, who started the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association, helped get the ball rolling with an initial meeting in October. She emphasized the importance of communities having an “organized voice at the table” to represent issues that are important to them.
“I believe very strongly in civic associations and how they give voice to members of the community,” Ms. Eisenstein said. “What’s wonderful about the civics and their functioning, is that when you’re organized and you have a structure — that’s what keeps you lasting — that they identify what the issues are for them. Each of the hamlets has their own culture and their own personality. What works for one hamlet may not be important to another.”
Ms. Eisenstein facilitated last Thursday’s meeting, where membership forms were distributed. Community leaders Drianne Benner and Anne Murray spoke about the importance of civic associations and the work they’ve done over the years. Ms. Benner, who is vice president of the Orient Civic Association, told The Suffolk Times that with the other five local civics, “we can share resources and expertise.”
“Right now Southold and Peconic have no means to engage with the community as a civic association, so building a membership base, identifying priorities and then working together with the other civics is just a good idea,” she said.
Ms. Steinbugler, Caroline MacArthur and Maggie Merrill — Southold hamlet residents and organizing members — explained at the meeting how the two communities could benefit from a civic group. All became involved in the efforts at Ms. Eisenstein’s initial meeting in October.
“At that time, there was a lot in the news, and there had been a lot of talk locally about what was happening to the North Fork. The influx of people, the traffic, new developments, new construction, the fact that we are busier and more crowded than ever and not just from Memorial Day and Labor Day,” said Ms. Merrill, interim president of the group and copy editor at The Suffolk Times. “More and more I have been hearing about people moving away, and people with families who’ve been here for generations considering leaving … So what are we to do about it?”
Audience members last Thursday expressed concern about several issues, including water quality, sea level rise, affordable housing, tax rates, overdevelopment, zoning code, house sizes, speed limits and deer overpopulation and tickborne diseases. One attendee suggested separate civic associations for Peconic and Southold hamlets.
The meeting “wasn’t focused on any one thing, which I think is the perfect example of how a civic association could be a positive force in a community,” Ms. MacArthur said.
Ms. Steinbugler said that, in her opinion, many of these problems are not separable.
“There’s a lot of overlap,” she said. “They’re all interrelated, which suggests to me they’re complex and require some degree of sound thinking, expertise, research to come up with some ways to address them.”
Organizing members plan to meet again this week to begin establishing a structure, bylaws, potential committees and communication methods, among other things.