I am writing this letter in support of the re-election of Dina Epstein for Trustee. Full disclosure here: I am Dina’s husband, so please feel free to take this with as many grains of salt as you see fit. I have been a resident of Sea Cliff for over 34 years. When I moved to the NYC area from out of state, I knew that this was exactly where I wanted to settle. Why has Sea Cliff managed to remain the small New England style village it is, without merging into the faceless suburbia that surrounds it? I can tell you that It isn’t by accident or fortuity. From what I’ve seen, it’s the result of generations of energetic, committed Sea Cliff volunteers who put in the long, usually thankless, and often unrecognized hours of hard work to maintain our identity and ambience. If you’re new to the village, that subtext may not be immediately apparent.
I write because Dina isn’t the type given to self-aggrandizement or credential hawking, so I simply want to get her backstory out. A review of the record will show that Dina has left a strong and lasting imprint on this village over the past 21 years, all while raising three kids and otherwise holding down the fort. Dina’s involvement started as an outsider to village government, when we waged a years long, often lonely and always labor intensive battle against the village. In early 1997, the Zoning Board approved a series of variances to the Village Code which permitted a seven-unit apartment complex complete with a 12-car basement parking garage emptying onto Tilley place, all on a small lot zoned for one single family home. It would have been the first new apartment building approved by Sea Cliff in decades, but more importantly, we feared that it would have served as a veritable road map for future developers to urbanize the village.
Over the next three years, Dina and a small group of supporters fought the approval. Armed with the results of her long hours of legal research of village, county, state, environmental and case law, we made numerous appearances and submissions to the Zoning and Planning Boards hoping to convince them that the decision was erroneous. As support for our opposition grew, Dina continued her research, eventually presenting the board with the leading case law governing a parcel with a similar history. It should be noted that no fundraisers were ever held, no legal fees were ever sought, and none received.
To the credit of some open-minded members of zoning, the tide began to change incrementally over time. The board first proposed downsizing the project to a four-unit complex, but Dina and her growing ranks of supporters fought on, and ultimately we got the two attractive retro style homes that now occupy that parcel. If you’re curious, it’s just one block south of Memorial/Sunset Park. Picture the apartment complex at that site, and then, consider the persuasive arguments of future developers demanding equal treatment for their projects following the same template.
After all those years of being a thorn in the side of the village, Dina’s hard work and pragmatism were recognized by at least some in the administration. In 2001, she was asked to volunteer as a member of the Zoning Board. In her subsequent 10 years in that capacity, she has always been fair minded, practical, and sometimes, out-voted. Her guiding principle was that home improvement should be considered just that: Improvement. The effort was in assessing the counterpoint presented by neighbors. Was the objectionable impact real, imagined, sour grapes, or just plain small town obstructionism. And always, always, she approached the applications of real estate developers and their dream-team lawyers, with the caution and scrutiny they deserved. Most Saturday mornings found Dina lacing up her running shoes so she could walk the village and physically review the sites slated for the next meeting’s agenda. In time, Dina was made Chair of the Zoning Board, and I’m proud to say that she was the first woman to chair that board in Sea Cliff’s long illustrious history.
Fully road tested, Dina has carried her talents, resourcefulness and hard-working efficiency into her first term as Trustee, and her many achievements are plain to see in the record. It’s all well and good to purvey pleasant platitudes about trendy open government abstractions, but I can tell you that Dina’s not aware of any instances where inquiries were met with anything but full openness. In my opinion, it’s kind of ironic that some of the folks lining up behind that banner now, were during their tenures in village government and boards, adept traffickers in opacity. Either way, Dina’s just one in a long line of hard working, often unrecognized Sea Cliffers who have worked quietly, diligently and without fanfare to protect the character and ambience of our village. Insert your grains of salt here, but please consider why you chose to move here, or why you have chosen to remain. In that context, I hope you might agree with me that Dina certainly deserves your vote. Thanks for listening.