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The Village News, Bellport's Paperless NewspaperOp-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 7, 2018

The Waterfront and Our Village

Op-Ed
by Victor Principe


I would first like to thank Larry Sribnick for his excellent editorial of October 23. It can be found here on Bellport.com. He raises many pertinent questions about the Marina project being considered by the Village. I and many Bellport residents support his conclusion that we must anticipate all possible ramifications of a project like this. I have no doubt that the Mayor and the Trustees sincerely want to improve the Village by accepting FEMA money to restore the marina, but as we all know, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

The Bellport Marina, a cultural emblem of our village, has looked the way it does for well over a hundred years. That alone makes it worthy of a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Painted and photographed throughout its history, the marina is our muse. Its reassuring, utter simplicity is fixed in the consciousness of all those who love this village. It is a shared memory present to connect generations of Bellporters- a precious thing, easily destroyed. Self- righteousness and blind determination should play no role when discussing its future; input from all corners- including the historic preservation commission and the beautification committee- should be welcomed.

From everything I’ve learned so far, it seems that there are too many loose ends and unanswered questions to push the marina project through as quickly as is apparently intended, if ever. Since Shore Road will continue to flood in severe storms (let’s remember that Osborn Park is reclaimed land, prone to flooding and that’s why, until fairly recently, planted with water absorbing willow trees) it makes one wonder if such an undertaking is really worth doing. Since this project has supposedly been under consideration for years, one should assume that a rigorous costbenefit analysis has been done. But is that the case? FEMA or not, there is always a cost. Would it be possible to just repair the dock to stop the sink holes while the long term issue of climate change is thoughtfully addressed. Why accept money from the Federal government and be beholden to it? FEMA doesn’t care how the marina, let alone the village, will look like after such a major endeavor, but it should be, needless to say, the supreme obligation of the Board to care. After all, maintaining the beauty of the shorefront is a mandate the village gave itself when it adopted its master plan in 1988. The Board must be mindful of any potential collateral issues, physical and emotional, for the character of this area is too critical a component of our village to proceed with a half baked plan. Taxpayers are owed specifics, complete disclosure, and full public review.

In the 1930s Bellport Village was offered WPA money to “improve” its sidewalks. Bellport’s historic benefactor, Birdsall Otis Edey, understood that wide sidewalks would ruin the village’s charm and she convinced the Board to reject that money. It may be necessary to again look a gift horse in the mouth.

I was not able to attend the public meeting on this project. Apparently it was not well publicized and only 15 residents attended. I would urge the Board to arrange another meeting at which the many questions arising from this proposed project could be addressed in a more authoritative way. Larry's editorial raises many of these questions. I would highlight a few particularly important ones.

There is first of all the question of the railing which all seem to agree would not only be an aesthetic disaster, but would change the very nature of the dock. Talking to people in the village, including some Trustees, one hears that there is a way to get around the railing requirement. But others say it is an absolute FEMA requirement. Before proceeding with this project residents should know exactly what they will be getting. Will there be a railing or not and will FEMA also insist on gates at the boat docks?

The same question applies to lighting which FEMA wants to make much brighter. This would also be a negative change. Again, some say this can be fudged- but how and by whom? We need a clear answer from the Trustees, not assurances.

Then there is the issue of raising the south part of the dock by 18 inches. What will the grade be like and what will this look like? How will it affect the yacht club, Osborn Park, the summerhouse and the bandshell, playground, and gazebo area? The ensemble of these historic shorefront structures is a veritable work of art. Will dock rituals such as crabbing and looping be affected? How will the appearance of the marina from Bellport Lane, Shore Road, Browns Lane, and Academy Lane be affected? It would be exceedingly helpful to have a scale model of the proposed changes as they are difficult to envisage. The $16,000 of taxpayer money spent on preparatory work should have included such a model. A measly drawing is not enough!

Another concern includes the alleged mismanagement of the marina following Sandy. According to the story in the Advance, FEMA originally declined to consider financing the reconstruction of the bulkhead because of its age and what they saw as “mismanagement” by the village. The village needs to address that assertion. It would be useful to know more about this before entrusting the Board with the responsibility for another major project.

Bellport is a tiny village with a monumental sense of place. The marina is one of the main contributors to this sense of place and we had better think twice before tampering with it. Bellport looks the way it does because residents who preceded us didn’t take its beauty for granted, leading successive village boards to avoid the unwise decisions that have compromised so many other Long Island towns. Indeed, in 1949 the village board sued and won in State Supreme Court to prevent a restaurant from opening on the waterfront through a zoning change.

But this gift from our predecessors is fragile, requiring constant vigilance. The uncluttered accessibility of our marina is what makes it so attractive and beloved. It doesn’t block non-boat owners with gates, as FEMA requires, nor does it have the inane complications of a railing or the disruptive effect of harsh lighting. It is plain, to the point, and for everyone. What a tragedy it would be if an observation by Shane Leslie in American Wonderland were ever to be applied to a new Bellport Marina: “The American sign of civic progress is to tear down the familiar and erect the monstrous.”

Victor Principe