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Building Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington

The journey from planting one tree to “Model Blocks”

When Myron Blumenfeld and his family settled in Port Washington in 1965 they were drawn by the beauty of the peninsula, the diversity of the community and the vibrant life on Main Street. Blumenfeld always felt a pride in this community and an intense desire to participate in community life. Therefore, it wasn’t unusual for him to respond to an article in the newspaper about a public hearing that would be considering a proposal for the expansion of a local garage. He took the day off from work and attended the town meeting. “Why don’t you ask the garage owner to put in a tree to beautify the area?” he asked of the town board. Local representatives thought he had a good idea and required the gas station owner to put in a tree as part of the expansion.

Blumenfeld treasured his small victory and thought, “If one guy can make a difference what about a group of people.” And so, 43 years ago an organization was born. At first, Blumenfeld solicited his neighbors and they met in one another’s homes, but from the beginning, he proved himself astute at putting together people with complimentary skills sets. Eric Pick, an architect was one of the first members of the fledgling group and along the way Blumenfeld tapped attorneys, accountants, land use experts, environmental specialists and urban planners The small group of like-minded citizens came up with the name Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington, “Residents” primarily because everyone believed they already lived in a beautiful place which simply needed to be safeguarded and wherever possible made more beautiful.

The group raised funds and was responsible for the beautification of the area around the train station by planting trees. But, it was not until 1968 when the town proposed a 990-ton incinerator on Shore Road that Residents became a powerful force and a voice for the Port Washington Peninsula. The board of Residents believed that toxic waste would be spewed into the air from the proposed incinerator. They hired attorney Joseph DeBenedetto who worked pro bono and brought a lawsuit against the town. Residents eventually raised $200,000 to fight the incinerator and brought 12 different lawsuits to stop the construction. Although they lost every lawsuit, they won the battle in the court of public opinion. Their efforts galvanized the town. John Kiernan, who was Town Supervisor and a proponent of the project, was defeated by Ben Zwirn. The incinerator project was tabled and today we have instead, Harbor Links Golf Course. “Residents was there before the EPA. We made everyone take notice of what a group of environmentally active citizens could do to protect the environment”, says Blumenfeld.

Over the years there have been many projects, large and small, some controversial, such as a proposed walking trail along the sand dunes overlooking the golf course which never garnered public support. Residents did persuade LILCO, LIPA’s predecessor, to remove wires and poles in a demonstration project from Campus Drive to Main Street. The organization has been responsible for the planting of trees along Port Boulevard and Main Street and has functioned as the environmental conscience of the Peninsula.

In talking with the current Executive Director of Residents, Mindy Germain, it is clear how the vision of Blumenfeld and his neighbors continues to inform and shape the organization that Residents is today. The early group of concerned citizens that came together wanted to provide a voice for the Peninsula. Germain says, “We have five villages, a school district, a library. We (Residents) have tried to provide a more global voice for the Peninsula. This organization listens to the community and attempts to translate the dialogue into actionable items. We try to think in terms of the total Peninsula.”

Today, Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington operates primarily through its three standing committees, Environmental Health, Environmental Education and the most popular Smart Growth. The Environmental Health Committee works with the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor the aquifer and super fund sites on the Peninsula. That work is ongoing and very important

The Education Committee works with local schools to formulate programs that bring a green approach into the classroom. Germaine has studied the curriculum at all levels and has developed programs that are integral parts of the curriculum. Her goal is to work within the curriculum rather than superimpose a prepackaged lesson. “The primary message is a good old-fashioned civics lesson”, says Germain. “We are all part of the community and what we do, how we treat our environment, effects not only the individual but all of our neighbors.”

The most popular standing committee is Smart Growth. It is this committee that has worked for the last four years on taking the work product of the town Visioning Process and turning it into the Model Blocks Program that was presented at the library in November to somewhat mixed reviews. Germain and the supporters of the project stress that “doing nothing is not an option. We are initiating a process and a dialogue about smart growth. We hope everyone will participate in the process so that we can move toward a more viable and vibrant Main Street.”

During the interview, Germain stressed that the current Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington would not have been possible without the civic passion of Myron Blumenfeld and the original group of activists. “We all stand on the shoulders of Myron Blumenfeld.”

Blumenfeld is today Chairman Emeritus for Residents and a Trustee of the Port Washington Library. He remains true to his original passion for the Port Washington environment. When asked about his most meaningful legacy he says, “The Blumenfeld Family Park which sits beside the landmark on Main Street.” He also stresses that Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington was the vision of a group of concerned and dedicated citizens who organized around the need to safeguard the local environment.

Residents is another example of a group of Port Washington residents brought together by opportunity, purpose and vision.

If you are involved in a grass roots organization that you would like to see profiled in the Port Washington News, contact portwashington@anton news.com.