The Village News: Op-Ed


Normally, the phrase “Op-Ed” stands for “opposite the editorial page,” but here on Bellport.com, it stands for “Opinion-Editorial.” Our Op-Ed piece's express the opinion of a writer who is unaffiliated with Bellport.com and the writer is solely responsible for the content of the Op-Ed piece. Generally, our Op-Ed pieces are fewer than 1,000 words in length and they should be in good taste and not libelous. Our Editorial Board would be glad to consider your Op-Ed piece for publication.

 


 

November 19, 2022

Elegy for a Cottage
Op-Ed by Victor Principe

Before
Before

 

After
After

 

Richard Heidelberger Jr. purchased land in 1945 that once belonged to the Goldthwaite Inn, a hotel on Browns Lane overlooking the bay. There, at water’s edge and before climate change became a concern, he built a cottage that would become a cherished presence to the Bellport community. The cottage was torn down on October 19th, 2022.

In the Notice of Public Hearing of March 11, 2021, the owners of 14 Shore Road described the proposed work on the cottage as a “renovation and expansion of a single story, single family dwelling.” The building permit, belatedly posted on the site, describes the construction of a “698 square foot addition,” implying the cottage would remain. But as can be seen, there has been no renovation and no addition. Instead, Bellport Village has been given a harsh monument to the lack of leadership at Village Hall and the brokenness of the ZBA and ARB.

What allowed this latest trophy house to be built at an environmentally fragile and historically sensitive site such as this was the granting of six variances - without discussion or explanation - by the ZBA. Given the extremely high community interest (331 residents signed a petition to save the cottage, while a sizable number supported its proposed replacement), the nonchalance of the ZBA decision was unconscionable and indeed insulting. The variances were allowed under an outdated zoning code. It is highly improbable that this construction (and recent others) would have been permitted if the village zoning code had been kept up to date, reflecting the reality of rising sea levels and the foolishness of building in a flood plain spawning aesthetic disaster as collateral damage. It is doubtful that an updated code would have permitted any new construction at this site. But since the village zoning code has not been kept up to date, the ZBA has taken to showering variances with a tunnel vision often at odds with community opinion enabling the privileged to have their way. And the ARB, after turning down the first iteration of this project but perhaps misled by renderings of the second in which the full extent of FEMA requirements could not be seen, approved it. The ARB remains as blind as ever to any historical or contextual perspective and is clearly confused about its mandate. No doubt, both boards need a reset. The problem is not primarily the members, who for the most part are conscientious and hardworking; it is, rather, that they are constrained by deficient, overlapping parameters and insufficient support and meddling by Village Hall.

Before
Before

 

After
After

 

How sad it is, especially when one considers the efforts that have gone into preserving the village we love and cherish. One of the most significant of these past efforts was the adoption of the Bellport Village Master Plan in 1989 making explicit the importance of keeping the zoning code current. It recommended code review every five years, emphasizing zoning’s importance to our quality of life. It specifically aimed to preserve and maintain the overall beauty of the waterfront area while providing for its effective use by residents and protecting critical natural resources. But now, thanks to the ZBA, ARB, and, most of all, Village Hall, the heart of our shorefront has been defiled.

To Bellport’s detriment, the forward looking Master Plan, created to prevent precisely this kind of abuse, has been forgotten and in effect jettisoned by an administration with no sense of aesthetics, let alone history. Instead of embracing it and the accumulated wisdom that has made Bellport the cultural treasure that it is, this administration fumbles down a road that has degraded many Long Island villages. Despite strong disapproval expressed at the Zoom meetings of 2021, the ZBA and ARB chose to ignore common sense. Furthermore, one would think that such an impactful change proposed at a critical site such as 14 Shore Road would have elicited concern from the Mayor and the Board of Trustees. After all, this is no ordinary lot but one of cultural and ecological import. Instead, true to form, we got cynical detachment and complicity. The result is a jarring metaphor for a village losing its way.

But it is useless to despair. Construction at 14 Shore Road is continuing and will be completed in due course. It is a fait accompli. The new house will tower over our marina and Osborn Park, calling attention to itself by its incompatibility. It represents the defeat of community. But it no longer should be the focus of our attention or a continuing source of controversy, as that would be counterproductive. Instead, we should turn our attention to the future and how we will endeavor to save our remarkable village. The first step is to install leaders in Village Hall who are committed to preserving Bellport, who respect the Master Plan, and have the vision and capacity to take on the hard but essential work of revitalizing the outmoded ZBA and ARB. This is easier said than done, but it is the only realistic antidote to our current trajectory.

Victor Principe’s new book, “UnHampton: Preservation and the Happiness of Place in Bellport Village and Environs,” will be released in early December.