The hotly contested 2017 Smithtown election not only pushed forward several political issues but resulted in the birth of new civic organizations across the town.
Both the Community Association of Greater St. James and Smithtown United Civic Association have emerged and risen up over the last year, becoming fountains of energy and new ideas with the aim of transforming their downtowns and the greater Town of Smithtown into a better place for residents and businesses alike.
Civic associations “play an important role,” Smithtown’s Supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “This way before the town board makes a decision on the economic developments or otherwise, we have a sense of what the community wants, who are the taxpaying residents of this town, and what’s acceptable.”
Lifelong St. James resident Kerry Maher-Weisse, director of St. James Funeral Home, said she approached co-founder William Capurso with the idea of creating what became the Community Association of Greater St. James at a St. James Chamber of Commerce meeting in late 2016.
“I asked him, ‘Do you want to do something? I have visions for St. James. Do you want to jump on this? I would love to have you,’” Maher-Weisse said.
The St. James civic association celebrated its one-year anniversary Dec. 16 with more than 270 family memberships behind it, according to Maher-Weisse, who serves as its president.
“I commend Kerry Maher-Weisse for spearheading a group of residents to form the Community Association of Greater St. James.”
— Rob Trotta
“I commend Kerry Maher-Weisse for spearheading a group of residents to form the Community Association of Greater St. James,” said Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has attended several of the group’s events. “I think it is great that they have solicited input from the residents and business owners, and have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Their Summer Nights were a big success. I really feel they have gotten off to a great start and will have a very positive impact on the St. James community.”
The civic organization has initiated the St. James Farmers Market, which now runs on Saturdays from May to the end of October at the St. James Lutheran Church located on 2nd Avenue. Residents came together for the Summer Nights series on Lake Avenue that featured live bands, entertainment, food, art and crafts, and vendors to pack the downtown area. In the fall, the association hosted antique car shows to build on camaraderie built up over the summerS
“I think they have great ideas,” Smithtown Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), also a St. James resident, said. “The town, particularly St. James, has been asleep for a while and they are waking it up.”
Maher-Weisse said the goal of the fledgling civic association isn’t just to build community, but to bring attention to key quality-of-life issues.
“We have so many great resources in St. James but some things are lacking, that I made politicians aware of,” she said. “We have to take action. That’s why making the civic association was so important both politically and eventwise to take action and start getting grant money.”
Within a year, the civic association’s president believes their activism is having an impact. Town of Smithtown officials approved funds to install new equipment at Gibbs Pond Park and Gaynor Park, both in St. James, at their Oct. 10 town board meeting. It’s the first time in more than 35 years, according to Maher-Weisse, some of the parks have seen major upgrades.
“I’m glad we made the politicians open their eyes to say, ‘St. James is here and we want our tax dollars to be used wisely and spruce up the things that need some attention,’” she said.
The Community Association of Greater St. James is not alone in its desire to draw attention to a downtown area. A smaller group of residents came together in the western part of Smithtown as the Smithtown United Civic Association, unveiling in October a detailed conception plan for what Smithtown’s Main Street revitalization should look like.
Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United and a retired engineer, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed in response to two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocating $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of the Smithtown school district’s administrative headquarters on New York Avenue.
. We in town government serve the people. We want to know and we want to hear from them.
— Ed Wehrheim
“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” Smalls said to TBR News Media in October. “There’s a lot of vacant shops and properties. We live in a wonderful town. The schools are wonderful, we love our homes, but it’s our downtown business districts that are deeply suffering.”
The Smithtown civic association leader said their conceptual revitalization plan was put together after the group spent approximately six months assessing community needs and drawing inspiration from surrounding towns, such as Huntington and Patchogue, for what they would like to see in Smithtown. The proposed design was unveiled on Facebook for public feedback, input and criticism.
Wehrheim said he spoke with Small Dec. 19 regarding the civic association’s desire to publicly present the plan at an upcoming town board meeting, possibly Jan. 25, 2018.
“I think they are having a positive impact,” the supervisor-elect said. “At least we have a sense of what they want and what they would prefer not to have near their residential community. We in town government serve the people. We want to know and we want to hear from them.”
A third organization, Nesconset Civic Association, was announced as newly formed at the Nov. 7 Smithtown Town Board meeting by Nesconset resident Peter Hanson, but was still establishing its goals. We look forward to seeing what changes take place in Nesconset in 2018.