|A Missed Opportunity?|
April 5, 2014For many years I’ve listened to both sides of the argument surrounding the opening of Bellport Village amenities (the ferry, Ho Hum Beach, golf course, tennis courts, parking at the marina, etc.) to our local business community. On one side, shop owners have argued that they are dedicated to the health and economy of the Village. They pay taxes and have invested their futures in the Village. They find it insulting to be treated as “outsiders” when in fact they spend almost as much, and sometimes more, time in the Village than some resident do. When I’ve offered to take them over to Ho Hum Beach as my guest, they’ve told me that isn’t the point. It isn’t about “going” to Ho Hum Beach. It’s about being told they don’t rate; they haven’t earned the right to be treated as an ordinary resident of Bellport Village.
On the other hand, you have residents who, year after year, have gotten up at Village Board meetings and have spoken against the mere thought of opening the Village amenities to our business community. Their argument has been that they pay the Village taxes that pay for the Village amenities. If the ferry and Ho Hum Beach are lightly used, good, that’s the way they want it. They’ve paid for the luxury of having the beach to themselves and their guests and they don’t see any reason to have more people using the Village’s facilities. It’s always been this way and they don’t see any reason to change it now.
Over the years, the various members of the Village Board have sided with the residents who have wanted to keep Village amenities closed to the business community. To their credit, our present Village Board finally decided to tackle this issue and pass a law, or code, they thought would solve the problem. Instead, as pointed out in the Letter To The Editor we received from former Village Clerk Scott Augustine, the new Village code creates more problems than it solves and completely misses the point. Here’s why.
The new Village code doesn’t open Village amenities to our local shop owners; instead, it opens the amenities to the landlords who own the buildings in which the shops are located. If they choose to, the landlords can reassign the right to use the Village amenities to their tenants, the shop owners, or anyone else for that matter, but they don’t have to, instead, they can just use the amenities themselves.
I have to admit the Village Board’s solution caught me completely by surprise. In all the years this problem has been discussed, the subject of the landlords being able to use Village amenities has never come up. The discussion has always been about the shop keepers, not the landlords. Although I guess the landlords are running local businesses too, what about the shop keepers? Did the Village Board completely miss the point and forget about them?
Here’s what I would suggest. The Village wants to increase their income from sources other than taxes. The outspoken residents, who are against the opening of the Village’s amenities, don’t want to see the amenities overrun by lots of new people. The shop owners want to be able to use the amenities as if they were residents. Presumably, the landlords, who don’t already live in the Village, also want to be able to use the amenities. Let’s make everyone happy.
First, there aren’t that many landlords who don’t already live in the Village so let’s just consider them to be shop keepers just like the rest of our shop keepers. Next, no reassigning of the use of the amenities. Each shop owner who wants one, should be issued a special Business ID good for up to five people, their family, no reassigning. These Business ID’s can be used as if they were Resident ID’s at all of the Village amenities, but here’s the key, they are only good for one year, a one year trial period. At the end of that year, let’s sit down and talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Let’s sit down and discuss how many people actually used the Village amenities. How much of a strain was put on the amenities? How much money was raised? How much pressure was taken off Village taxes? At that time we can change things, extend the plan another year, make it permanent, or cancel it, but we’ll be doing so with some hard facts, not what we “think” is going to happen as a result of the change.
One last very important point...
We are all aware of, and concerned about, the empty storefronts on Main Street. This is a problem that isn’t unique to Bellport Village. It can be found in small towns all across the United States. Like it or not, Bellport Village is in a competition to draw new businesses to the Village rather than having them decide to locate elsewhere. If the details of the above plan can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, wouldn’t the availability of Village amenities to Village shop owners and landlords be a reason for a new business to locate in Bellport Village rather than Sayville? Let’s not miss this opportunity to do the right thing and benefit everyone involved if at all possible.
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