by Annette Hinkle
Chuck Neuman recently stepped down as president of the Noyac Civic Council after eight years, but plans to stay involved in his new role as president emeritus of the organization.
When and why was the Noyac Civic Council originally founded?
The group has been around since 1954. It was a community association with a small legacy. Basically residents formed it themselves to take care of quality of life issues in Noyac. For a bunch of years it was more in the tradition of the old civic association — there weren’t that many political issues or social issues to get involved in.
Of course, Noyac’s grown. My own neighborhood, Sunset Shores – out of the 80 lots they have there, probably only 10 of them had a house on them when my family started coming out here in 1958.
You’ve been a full time resident for 16 years. How has the population in Noyac changed since you’ve lived here?
There’s been an increase in numbers from 2,600 to closer to 3,000 based on 2007 information from the census. There have been more houses built, including along the waterfront. It seems in general since 9/11 the numbers have gone up. I think younger people are raising families here while some of the older people are moving down to Florida. There are certainly more cars on the road.
During your time as NCC president, how did you go about getting things done?
In my eight years, I wasn’t just all the time standing in the wind by myself. I had a lot of guys standing with me. They ducked a few times, but I had a good team, people who worked for the town, the hospital, business people.
What were the toughest issues Noyac faced during your tenure as president?
I’d put it into two categories — the issues we faced as an organization, then purely the Noyac issues. The issues we had in ‘02 included a failed attempt at incorporation. Whether it was the message or the messenger, I’m not sure — most likely the messenger — but that whole deal didn’t come across well. Signatures were collected against it.
So the civic council cut itself off from the effort. It didn’t look like the right thing. We had some challenges of reorganization and there were some changes we made.
In ‘03 we ran a survey of 1,500 households in Noyac asking them what they wanted us to do. The first thing we did was get [then supervisor Patrick “Skip”] Heaney to agree to a Noyac Hamlet Study which they changed to a Hamlet Center District Study. We also had three core issues that came out of the survey – building a community center to give Noyac a sense of place, deal with the Cromer’s/Whalebone situation and the traffic issues there, and Noyac Road, both the maintenance, and the overlay district including things like sizes of fences and signage you can put up.
We want the town to assume ownership of Noyac Road from Suffolk County to keep it from being widened and made into more of a County Road 39 bypass. That was a selling point that went well with the community. Hopefully it will be finalized in the next couple of months.
There were other things in the hamlet center study that gave us direction like speed monitors on Noyac Road. You used to never see a cop in Noyac, now it’s got to the point that we’ve got all these cops around. The highway department also managed to pay more attention to us. We had monthly meetings from 2002 to 2005 until we drove them crazy and a lot of things got done.
Other than traffic calming, do you see any other way that Noyac Road could be improved?
With the change of ownership [from county to town], maybe they could find another four or five feet for bike lanes. We have all these valuable assets in Noyac — Trout Pond, Circle Beach, Long Beach and Morton [Wildlife Refuge]. It would be a cool vision to have Noyac Road or at least parts of it as a bike accessible road. You have school kids who could use it and local people could go to the beach on bikes.
It’s one of those things people will say, ‘What? Are you nuts?’ But if you’ve got six feet, or even four feet, it would be a tremendous project. The more I think about it, it would be one of the best things that could ever happen. The bicycle vision might be one to talk about.
Where do things stand on the idea of Southampton Town building a community center for Noyac?
When it comes to the community house, the town seems to have stepped away from taking that on. Should that be a priority for Noyac still?
In late 2009, it was put into the 2013 time frame – I think it was close. The thinking is maybe the 1.6 acres behind the current Old Noyac School House is a good location with parking for 50 and a 5,000 square foot building. It hasn’t gone away but moving forward has been put on the back burner. I think the days of the town taking $1 million plus out of the capital budget for these kinds of things is over. My personal belief is it might take a coalition of government, self-taxation and private money to make it happen.
Do you feel Noyac has the representation it needs at Southampton Town Hall?
Yes. That takes a lot of work – I’m part of several committees and you spend a lot of time in town hall building relationships. Through the hamlet study, I got to know the people at top and others in the highway and planning department and we have very good relationships.
With all the meetings going on at town hall – there are six meetings a month — and for one individual to always attend, you can’t do that. I would say we need more participation by a greater number of our members. I see the same 100 faces all the time. There’s something wrong with that – you have to find a way to get more people involved.
Has NCC made a concerted effort to get more residents to the group’s meetings, and how is that effort working?
You have to put yourself on the map as an organization. We went to school board meetings and came with people asking penetrating questions about the education of the kids on one side and the cost on the other. I got 30 or more people to go – but it also started to become very contentious. You never want to become a lightning rod.
We’re now in the process of kicking off a membership drive for January or February and we’re looking at all the members – we have about 550 and out of those maybe 100 are dead wood. We’re cleaning up the membership list. We also have a new website that was designed by Diana Hewitt and have computerized some of the membership addresses with email. We’d also like to do another survey.
What advice would you give Elena Loreto, the new NCC president, as she takes over leadership of the group?
I think the time has come for the NCC to reinvent itself. Populations change, people get older, you need to redevelop the vision, come up with a strategy and some operational plan to carry out that strategy. You also have to find folks who have the time to help carry it out and need to build relationships with other organizations and the town.
I changed my approach from confrontational to the notion that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I built relationships with town. You have to be persistent. Nothing moves fast — look at this Noyac Road thing.
What feeds the persistence is if you believe in your strategy and your vision. What kept me going for eight years is I believed what I was doing was the right thing.