Sidney L. Mitchell, who as a county commissioner helped pioneer the program that preserved broad swatches of farmland across Suffolk County, died early Sunday, Oct. 23, in Sarasota, Florida after suffering from congestive heart failure. He was 88.
Born in Patchogue, N.Y. in 1923, Mr. Mitchell was largely raised in Bay Shore. As a young man, he enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marine and survived the harrowing and dangerous World War II supply runs to Murmansk in the Soviet Union that claimed so many seamen. After that, he joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific and occupied Japan.
Returning home after the war, Mr. Mitchell graduated from law school at New York University and worked for a time as a lawyer and small businessman before entering government as deputy town attorney for Islip and then deputy county attorney in Suffolk.
But it was as commissioner of land management from 1975 to 1984 that Mr. Mitchell made his most lasting contribution, helping carry out County Executive John V.N. Klein’s vision for a farmland preservation program. Under Mr.Mitchell, the first of Suffolk’s farmers were offered the opportunity to sell the development rights for their farms to the county. The program was designed to give farmers much needed cash and capital in exchange for the guarantee that their land would remain agricultural in perpetuity. It was novel and controversial in its time, particularly in the search for a fair value for the land. Today its results are visible in the farm fields that still give eastern Suffolk so much of its character.
Mr. Mitchell went on to become a Suffolk County district judge from 1984 through 1991, a window into all kinds of human foibles that often left him saying that he should write a memoir called “But Judge….”
He retired to Sarasota in 1991, which reminded him of Long Island. He was no longer the avid boatman and fisherman of in his youth but he loved photographing the waterways and sea birds.
He is survived by his wife Audrey, his children, Alison, of New York City, and Andrew, of Riverhead, and his grandson, Gregory.