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Amityville mayor: ‘People were walking around like zombies’

Peter Imbert, 53, has been mayor of the

Peter Imbert, 53, has been mayor of the Village of Amityville for 16 years. (Dec. 12, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Peter Imbert, 53, has been mayor of the Village of Amityville for 16 years.

How long have you lived in Amityville?

My whole life. My parents lived here, my grandparents lived here. I’m the fourth generation here. My kids are the fifth. That’s not uncommon in Amityville.

Why do you think that is, what made you stay here?

Being near the water and having made a lot of friends and family over the years. When you’ve been here your whole life you get to know everyone. We got creamed from Sandy, but aside from that, this is a beautiful waterfront community. We’ve got the beach, the creeks; there are sailing clubs, yacht clubs. There’s really a lot. At least half the village is on or very close to the water.

We’re a village that was incorporated in 1896 but we were around for years before that, since the 1700s. There is a strong sense of community in the village. We take it for granted -- those of us who have lived here our whole lives -- but people have a sense of belonging. It’s a close-knit community. There’s ups and downs to that, too -- everybody knows everybody’s business.

What was it like growing up here?

It was a different world then. You got out of school, got out of your school clothes, and ran out the door to hook up with all your friends. There’s a senior development in Amityville -- it used to be 32 acres of fields. That’s what we did -- ran around on 32 acres of fields. The canals used to freeze over more often than they do now; we used to have hockey games.

How has the community changed?

There are no real significant changes from a community standpoint. We have made a lot of aesthetic improvements. The village has added ballfields and we’ve taken down dilapidated buildings. The community continues to undergo revitalization. During one of the worst recessions in our history, our downtown doesn’t have a tremendous amount of vacancies.

How was the village affected by Sandy?

We have never had water levels as high as Sandy brought in here. Down south, it was like a war zone. Everybody had to drag stuff out from their houses to try to save it. There was 8 feet of water on the streets in some places. It strained the village’s resources past the breaking point. We got help from the Town of Huntington; they sent dump trucks here to help and had the village cleaned up in one day. We’ll pay for that, of course, once we get FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] money. We’re rebuilding. People are building. But a lot of people suffered. A lot of people went through it. And then to be followed by a nor’easter was brutal.

Sandy is something nobody will ever forget. And if you like the water, south Amityville is one of the most desirable places to live, and it just got creamed. People didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. Even the village, we didn’t think it was going to be that bad. Fourteen months ago, we got through Irene like nothing. We thought it would be like that. A lot of people stayed that shouldn’t have stayed. We realized it in the middle of the storm. People were walking around like zombies. They didn’t know where to start, where to begin. But they did come together. People who had power offered hot showers, places to sleep. The worst part was no electric and then a freezing cold nor’easter and you’ve got snow on your roof and no heat. Everybody did help one another, though.

What challenges does this community face?

We’re facing a financial challenge on several fronts. The recession is hurting our revenues. Virtually all municipalities are hurting now. There are costs we can’t control like insurance and benefits, and then with homeowners grieving their taxes -- because their house values are going down -- and our expenses are fixed, taxes have been a major issue and we’ve tried to keep them down because we know people are hurting, but the village’s financial condition has deteriorated somewhat.

How would you define the character of Amityville?

The quaint bay village on the Great South Bay.

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