Mindy Germain is Executive Director of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington (Residents), a community organization dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing quality of life, and encouraging sustainable growth on the Port Washington Peninsula. Port Washington is located on Long Island’s North Shore, less than 20 miles east of New York City. We spoke about the group’s efforts to improve their downtown and community—and why Residents is so focused on the future—in May 2014.
Why did you join Residents?
Mindy Germain: My first interaction with Residents was while taking my daughter in her stroller to the Blumenfeld Family Park on Main Street 12 years ago. I spotted people picking up litter wearing T-shirts that read “Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington.” It made a deep impression on me. Since that day, I learned that Residents does much more than pick up litter. Over the organization’s 46-year history, talented planners, architects, lawyers, horticulturists, teachers, and other professionals have served on Residents’ board, helping to develop beautiful parks and gardens, fighting a proposed incinerator, planting hundreds of trees, protecting our drinking water, revitalizing Main Street, and planning an extensive shoreline trail system.
In this interview, I’d like to quote many of the talented, passionate individuals leading our board today, to help articulate the mission and vision of this 46-year-strong organization.
What makes Port Washington unique? Why do you love your community?
“A sense of community, a sense of familiarity, a sense of belonging.”
— Annette Oestreich, Residents’ Vice President of Finance
Germain: The lure of Port Washington is the magnificent waterfront, rich history, strong school district, quick train ride into New York City, and a Main Street in the center of town. When you dig a little deeper, you unveil a special, close-knit community with a wonderful diversity of cultures that shares an intense “Pride in Port.”
Major effort has been put into beautifying downtown Port Washington, especially through the Keep Port Beautiful…Pass It On Campaign. Can you tell me more about this initiative?
“The premise behind this campaign is to get the whole community to work together to keep where we live clean and beautiful. Beyond litter, our goal is to make our commercial corridor vibrant and welcoming.”
— Betsy Liegey, Residents’ Beautification Chair
Germain: Residents regularly organizes volunteers to pick up litter, weed, mulch tree beds, plant flowers, and even decorate vacant windows. We engage schools, local businesses, youth clubs, scouts, and a variety of community partners to make this campaign successful.
Though your organization’s name implies that you’re focused primarily on beautification projects, you tackle many other issues in downtown Port Washington. What are your top priorities for the downtown?
“Port’s Main Street hasn’t changed much over the last 40 to 50 years. It has become a snapshot in time. Our priority is to focus on where we want to be 60 years from now.”
— Dan Donatelli, Residents’ Co-President
Germain: With this long-term view, Residents is working on a ground-up community effort to take the lofty goals and ideas for Main Street that were formulated during an extensive community-wide visioning process in 2005, and translate them into practical tools that can be implemented in phases, starting with a small, focused area around the train station.
The community visioning process in 2005 led to the Model Blocks Program, the goal of which is to revitalize Port Washington’s Main Street. Can you tell us more about the Program and its goals? What steps are being taken to implement Model Blocks?
“Model Blocks is Port’s first effort to create a plan for a more walkable and vibrant Main Street. Implementing a mixed-use overlay district provides tools to help building owners fund improvements to their properties; design guidelines to ensure architecture feels unique to Port Washington; and zoning that prescribes housing for young adults and seniors over commercial spaces, while maintaining village height and scale.”
— Jennifer Rimmer, Model Blocks Chair
Germain: Model Blocks started with just 4 blocks centered around the train station. Within these 4 blocks, the program introduces architectural design guidelines to increase Port’s charm and character; streetscape enhancements that encourage shopping and strolling; beautification of the train station; traffic calming measures; enhanced parking; and an overlay district that legalizes low-density mixed-use buildings, which also incentivizes building owners to turn old, outdated apartments into modern, functional living and working spaces.
It was recently announced that federal funds have been granted to the Town of North Hempstead, and that a portion of those funds will be allocated to Model Blocks. How will those funds specifically be utilized?
“Nassau County and the Town of North Hempstead have been supportive of the Model Blocks project since its beginning. The project will only be achievable with a strong public/private partnership, and we are grateful to all levels of government for their commitment to Port Washington’s future.”
— Curtis V. Trinko, Residents’ Chairman
Germain: Under the leadership of Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, the $30,000 federal Community Development Block Grant will be allocated towards sidewalk improvements, signage and awning grants, and overall streetscape improvements. The Town is working closely with Residents, the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District (BID), and the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce to develop and roll out these programs and infrastructure improvements.
How would revitalizing Port Washington’s downtown benefit surrounding single-family residential neighborhoods?
“A beautiful Main Street and thriving local economy benefits the entire community.”
— Flora Hanft, Residents’ Vice President of Marketing
Germain: Residents’ goal is to turn a string of struggling and vacant storefronts into a thriving, walkable commercial corridor where people can live, work, shop, and stroll without ever getting into their cars. Model Blocks aims to increase Port’s tax base, increase property values, and improve the quality of life.
Residents expressed qualified support for a parking garage proposal at the Port Washington train station in 2009. Newsday weighed in to express support for the garage, saying that it’s “the real answer” to “the eternal struggle over parking spots near Port Washington’s popular Long Island Rail Road station.” However, the proposed garage drew considerable opposition, and plans were put aside. What is the current parking situation in Port Washington’s downtown and train station area? How do you think it could be best improved, going forward?
“Residents is looking at the parking deficit our community will face with the introduction of East Side Access as an opportunity to think outside the box, and take a fresh look at innovative and sustainable strategies to meet short- and long-term residential, commuter, and merchant parking needs.”
— Deborah Shapiro, Chair of the Port Washington Parking Improvement Committee
Germain: Currently, Residents sits on a parking planning committee under the leadership of Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, charged with developing a master plan for parking in Port Washington. This committee is studying everything from lot organization, yield management, permitting processes, and pricing to new technologies and programs that incentivize public transportation.
The Long Island Index’s ParkingPLUS Design Challenge includes design proposals for structured parking in Long Island’s downtown and train station areas. Do you think any of the ideas from ParkingPLUS could work in Port Washington?
“Studying best practices is fundamental to the planning process at Residents.”
— David Brackett, Residents’ Treasurer
Germain: Residents respects the bold thinking and use of technology exhibited in the ParkingPLUS Design Challenge. Elements of the ParkingPLUS proposals are currently being studied by Port Washington’s Parking Committee.
Residents organizes the annual Port Holiday Magic Event, in concert with other groups including the BID, Chamber of Commerce, Town of North Hempstead, and local merchants. Why are events like this important for your downtown? What other events do you sponsor?
“We love our merchants, and if we want them to survive, we need to make shopping local a magical experience!”
— Mariann Dalimonte, Residents’ Director of Development
Germain: Each December, Port Holiday Magic does just that. Holiday decorations abound. Entertainers perform on street corners. Big Apple Circus performers stroll the sidewalks. Restaurants create special tastings. Santa gives out candy canes. Chabad does a Menorah lighting. Carolers sing. Parents sip Prosecco as they shop. Kids sip hot chocolate as they play. And a trolley harkening back to Port’s past rolls down Main Street. This event is truly magical, and is put together by a dynamic team of local government officials, civics, and devoted merchants.
We also organize other events—each summer, Residents and the Town of North Hempstead sponsor a series of free outdoor family movies at Sunset Park. As part of these special movie nights, we encourage moviegoers attending “Cinema on the Bay” to frequent local restaurants and stores, and we encourage merchants to stay open to accommodate the moviegoers.
Each fall, after our schools are back in session, Residents hosts a “Party in the Park” at Blumenfeld Family Park. In addition to children’s games and a DJ, there are environmental education programs and other fun activities for the whole family.
Your organization is known for its efforts to protect the natural environment in Port Washington. What are some of the key challenges you’re working to address?
“Living on a peninsula, surrounded by marine waters and dependent upon an underground aquifer, presents unique challenges to the management and protection of our water system.”
— Paul Stewart, Residents’ Vice President of Environmental Health
Germain: Residents formed a Peninsula Aquifer Committee in 2000 to study problems created through the historical uses of the properties that rest atop our drinking water supplies, such as the threat of saltwater intrusion to our coastal community’s water supply. This intergovernmental partnership raised the funds to develop a detailed and calibrated computer model of the Port Washington aquifers, which now functions as a tool to help guide location of new wells and set safe limits on pumping from existing wells, to protect the community’s water supply now and in the future.
You’ve been working hard to protect trees in Port Washington. What initiatives have you undertaken?
“Residents has planted hundreds of trees in Port Washington to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our community, as well as to provide natural, scenic, and aesthetic value.”
— Laurie Courage, Residents’ Vice President of Environmental Education
Germain: In 2010, Residents launched Tree-1-1, a Port Washington Peninsula Public Tree Protection Committee, to establish best practices for tree planting, maintenance, and removal. This dynamic partnership has enhanced public notice and communication around tree removals, identified best tree species for planting in Port Washington (taking into account environmental factors such as overhead wires, road salt, sidewalk depths, and varying weather patterns), as well as best practices in planting and maintenance. As part of the Environmental Education Curriculum that Residents facilitates in the local school district, Residents visits each second-grade classroom with a program called, “Be a Friend to Trees.” This program, developed in consultation with Grassroots Environmental Education, deepens students’ understanding of the value of trees and the role they can play to protect them.
What steps are you taking—yes, pun intended—to expand the Bay Walk, a shoreline trail along Manhasset Bay and Hempstead Harbor? Why is this project important?
“Our vision for a shoreline trail system is to link the recreational, cultural, and natural features of Port Washington, providing pathways that showcase Port Washington’s natural beauty.”
— Rick Krainin, Residents’ Co-President
Germain: More than 20 years ago, Residents proposed creation of a shoreline-to-shoreline trail, stretching along the Manhasset Bay waterfront [the western side of the peninsula] from the Town Dock to Manorhaven Park, and along the Hempstead Harbor waterfront [the eastern side of the peninsula] from Hempstead Harbor Park and into the Village of Roslyn. We knew that realizing such a vision would take steady effort by many, particularly the Town of North Hempstead and the local villages located along the trail path. Residents has assisted wherever possible to further these efforts.
As a result, Port Washington has been enhanced by the splendor of the Village of Port North’s section of Bay Walk along Manhasset Bay. In addition, a Master Plan to extend Bay Walk along additional stretches in the Town of North Hempstead and adjoining villages is underway.
On the Hempstead Harbor portion of the shoreline-to-shoreline trail, Residents has, over the past decade, worked with the Town on a 5-phase plan to implement a shoreline trail. Last summer, the Town announced it will move forward with Phases I and II of the Hempstead Harbor Trail, adding an additional mile to the existing trail. The additional mile will include an ADA-compliant section, native wetland plantings, benches, way-finding signage, and a boardwalk traversing a stream.
Progress on both of these shoreline trails represents a huge victory for the Port Washington community, and an important milestone in the realization of a shoreline-to-shoreline trail.
Interview has been condensed and edited.