If you haven’t been to a Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting recently, you’re not alone. Attendance at the community meetings has waned in recent months, last Sunday playing host to just two attendees — one of whom was the co-chair leading the meeting.
The duo briefly discussed issues affecting Southampton Town, as is a CAC’s purview, like the amount of nitrogen seeping into local waterways and a new proposal from Councilman Chris Nuzzi to create a committee to expedite the permitting process for builders and small business owners.
But with such a small audience, the meeting was mostly just informative.
“I’d like to grow,” Judah Mahay said of CAC attendance.
According to Mahay, co-chair of the CAC, the group technically has five active members. However, since February the meetings have only garnered two or three members (including the two co-chairs). The most populous meeting — in April — attracted a crowd of seven, and featured a speaker from the Quiet Skies Coalition who discussed the issue of helicopter noise.
At this point, he added, his main issue is building a core group of members. “We’re being proactive for community involvement,” he said.
Part of the CAC slow-down has to do with the fact that the organization is in a redevelopment process, explained co-chair John Linder.
“Clearly, we’re in a period of transition,” said Linder, who is prepping Mahay to take on the role in its entirety in 2013. Linder and Mahay officially became co-chairs this past February. “At this point, we’re just taking it month-to-month.”
The mission of all local CACs is to keep abreast and weigh in on issues affecting those areas that lie outside village jurisdiction, but within Southampton Town’s. At last Sunday’s meeting, Mahay explained to his one guest that the Sag Harbor CAC’s main priority at the moment is “being proactive to gain community involvement.”
Mahay himself is taking steps to give the CAC much more of a presence in the community, which includes giving the organization an online presence.
“We’ve thought about ways to bring people to the CAC, to not only show up, but to participate in the community,” Mahay continued. He mentioned setting up an information booth outside the library to explain what the organization is all about, in addition to creating an interactive website for the CAC.
Mahay said the website will include all the minutes from CAC meetings, as well as all letters drafted on behalf of CAC members that are sent to the town board or local publications. He expects the website to be up and running before the organization’s next meeting, July 8.
While Linder explained that a couple active CAC members are actually summer residents who have not yet arrived, some wonder whether the low attendance has to do with the current time slot: Sunday afternoons at 1:30 p.m.
CAC member Eric Cohen regularly attended meetings until they were switched from Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to their current Sunday time slot.
“That’s the entire reason for me,” Cohen said, explaining why he no longer attends meetings. Plus, he said the issues in the greater Sag Harbor community are not as crucial as they were a few years ago.
CACs were established about 15 years ago so that areas in Southampton Town without a localized government could have a much stronger connection to the town board. The Bridgehampton CAC, for example, has a relatively high attendance rate because the hamlet has a significant population with issues that cannot be addressed locally.
Because Sag Harbor is an incorporated village, the Sag Harbor CAC is technically responsible for the areas of the greater Sag Harbor community on the Southampton side of town that do not fall within village jurisdiction. This includes Ligonee Creek to the south, and part of the Long Pond Greenbelt.
The most significant issue the CAC has dealt with in recent years was the push for a Sag Harbor Gateway Study along the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike, which essentially limits development in that area.
“The area we’re representing is small and there isn’t a lot of controversy right now,” said Cohen. “We used to have a much larger membership, with people who really knew how to speak up [for Sag Harbor issues in town board meetings]. But, with membership shrinking, there are fewer of us to get out there.”
For Linder, the greater Sag Harbor area will continue to see issues, whether it’s water quality or traffic on Noyac Road (Noyac, by the way, has its own CAC). But, the longevity of the Sag Harbor CAC will be left to the will of the people.
“If people see the value in it, some will come forward and participate,” he said. “If not, it will go by the wayside.” But, he continued, “the issues will remain.”