Bellport, NY: A village with special privileges

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For years, Melissa Feldman had one of the worst professions imaginable in a pandemic: she organized social events for the art world. After the parties stopped, Mrs. Feldman (57) moved forward with a new life. She sold her apartment in Chelsea and moved into her weekend home in Bellport, NY, a village of about 2,100 people on the south coast of Long Island. In August, Mrs. Feldman opened Storefront, a gallery, fashion boutique and bookstore on South Country Road, Bellport’s main street.

Bellport hasn’t had a bookstore in years, and it’s hard to imagine how it survived without it. For decades, the village in the Great South Bay, 60 miles east of Manhattan, has been the focus – in the ocean way – of writers, editors, publishers, artists, gallery owners, photographers, radio stations, architects and other professionally charming and literate people.

Ms. Feldman, once referred to as an “art party princess” by New York Magazine, described the community as “all very successful but very inconspicuous, and you won’t find any of the attitudes in the Hamptons.” in 2017 for $ 300,000. (She did a bowel reconstruction and landscaping and added a pool.)

Much of Bellport is inhabited by temporary workers, many who have moved to their weekend homes during the pandemic, and some, such as Mrs Feldman, who have settled firmly. But long before Covid-19, the natural beauty and comfort of the village transformed urbanities into devoted village people.

“I came here to dig and shout,” said Elettra Wiedemann, 37, who settled full-time in Bellport three years ago. Her partner, actor Caleb Lane, is originally from Texas and could not imagine raising her little son in Brooklyn, she said. “I was born and bred in Manhattan, but after three months out here, it was so nice and easy and the community is so kind.” Whenever I want to go to town, I hop on a train and I’m in New York in 90 minutes. At that time, I was trapped on train F in a tunnel. “

Ms. Wiedemann found another advantage in moving close to her mother, actress, director and model Isabella Rossellini, who offered not only grandmother help but also a job at her Hamlet farm in Brookhaven called Mama Farm. The benefits reduce both options. Ms. Wiedemann, who is expecting her second child with Mr. Lane, studied biomedicine at the London School of Economics and is a food specialist. She is now the farm’s executive director and has a community farm subscription program, which she said has doubled in popularity during the pandemic.

Bellport Village is located in Brookhaven, Suffolk, about halfway between Manhattan and Montauk. It is bounded on the north by Head of the Neck Road, on the west by Bieselin Road and Bellport Country Club, on the east by a stream called Motts Brook (some claim Brookside Avenue as a border) and on the south by Bellport Bay.

Although other areas in zip code 11713 are called Bellport (or North Bellport), the village is a distinct entity. It has a mayor, a deputy mayor and three administrators, a highway department that plows the road, and a hygiene department. Its character – a pleasant combination of a weathered coastal settlement and a landscaped suburb in the middle – is managed by an architectural revision commission, a historical monument commission, a planning commission and a territorial appeals commission.

Property ownership in Bellport Village grants special privileges. In summer, residents and their guests can take the Whalehouse Point Ferry to the exclusive beach on Fire Island called Ho-Hum. They receive a subsidized membership of the Bellport Country Club, which has a respectable golf course and five tennis courts. They are allowed to park at the port with a newly rebuilt dock. The village also owns the freshwater bay Rašelinova díra, to which a path leads through the forest and which is used by skaters in winter.

Indoor recreation includes a 92-year-old bowling alley at the Bell Street Community Center Approved Architectural Digest transformed in 2019. The South Country Library became a pandemic devotee, supporting a pantry with food, handing out mandala painting kits, and hosting virtual bingo games, qigong classes, and financial workshops.

The public has access (as social distance allows) to Mother’s Beach, near the end of South Howells Point Road (although non-residents cannot park there); to the Gateway Playhouse (now the Suffolk Performing Arts Center), which is embarking on its 72nd season; and to boutiques, galleries and restaurants in the village’s compact business district.

Copper Beech is a four-year store co-founded by interior designer and products Thomas O’Brien that combines household equipment and gourmet food. Bellport General, founded by Stefan Beckman, a production designer, recently appeared with fashion and coffee. Due to the lack of a sewer area in Bellport, wastewater restaurants are limited to a handful, including Papa Nick’s Pizza, Bellport (continental), Café Castello (Italian) and Porters on the Lane (maritime).

“I always told my wife that our daughter lived in an artificial world,” said Ray Fell, who has been mayor of Bellport Village since 2013 and has lived in the same house on Brewster Lane since 1972. “Golf lessons twice a week, tennis lessons once a week, and she went to the ocean every summer afternoon.”

Mr. Fell’s daughter is now a pediatric surgeon in Los Angeles, but that didn’t stop her from buying a second house next to him in Bellport.

Bellport’s historic homes are centered between South Country Road and the bay, especially on water-facing streets, including Livingston Road, Academy Lane, Browns Lane and Bellport Lane. The last, which runs past Osborn Park and Bellport Bandshell, leads directly to the harbor.

North of South Country Road, several 19th and early 20th century properties can be found on North Howells Point Road and on and off New Jersey Avenue, but most of the housing stock dates from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Prior to 2020, the entry price for older homes was $ 1 million to $ 1.2 million, said Howie Guja, a salesman at Old Purchase Properties, in Bellport Village. Now it’s closer to $ 1.5 million if the house ever comes to market. The pandemic has reduced stocks that have never been expansive here, even in times of recession. And sales are often made privately, Mr Guja said.

Before the pandemic, homes began in the middle of the century north of South Country Road around $ 350,000; now they are at least $ 450,000. Sellers tend to be long-term residents going to other communities, Mr Guja said, adding that homes usually need to be upgraded.

According to Redfin, the average sale price of the Bellport house in January was $ 462,000, a year-over-year increase of 31.4 percent, based on eight properties sold. On February 23, the Redfin website showed 10 listings. The least expensive was a 1950s three-bedroom farm on a third of an acre on Country Club Road, which was listed at $ 459,000 with taxes of $ 10,166. (It sold for $ 220,000 six years ago.) The most expensive was the 7-bedroom Cape Cod, built in 1927, with a guest house and shipyard, on two acres on the beach near Howells Point; was listed at $ 5 million with taxes of $ 44,215.

Ease and informality are qualities that villagers point out when explaining why Bellport is the opposite of Hampton. “It’s not the kind of place you show off,” Mr. Guja said, adding that houses “are not a conspicuous purchase of consumption.”

Tricia Foley, the designer and writer who runs the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society, described the locals who rode cocktails on bicycles, men “in bow ties, women in summer clothes.” Her new book, A Summer Place: Living by the Sea, published in Rizzoli in April, opens some Bellport homes and gardens for “inspiring design ideas for casual summer living.”

The lack of developable space and the watchful eyes of conservationists help the village to maintain its character. However, aesthetic conservatism does not completely dominate Bellport, noted Katia Read, a potter and ecologist who has spent the summer of the village since the 1980s with her husband, art dealer Howard Read. “Bellport has become a center of modern architecture along with a growing effort to preserve the history of the village from the 19th century,” she said.

Bellport is part of the South Country Central School District, which also serves North Bellport, Brookhaven Hamlet, East Patchogue and parts of Yaphank and Medford. The neighborhood includes an early childhood center in Brookhaven; primary schools in different communities; one high school in North Bellport; Bellport Village High School; and Bellport High School in Brookhaven Hamlet.

In the 2018-19 school year, 361 students were enrolled in Kreamer Street Elementary School (serving kindergarten until third grade) in Bellport Village – 39 percent were white, 37 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, and 2 percent Asian.

At Frank P. Long High School (fourth and fifth grades), enrollment was 609. In the 2019 assessment, 29 percent of students met English standards, up from 45 percent nationwide; 30 percent met math standards, compared to 47 percent nationwide.

Bellport Middle School enrolled 1,007 students in 2019. In state tests this year, 22 percent of students met English standards, compared to 45 percent nationwide; Standards in mathematics met 27 percent, compared to 47 percent nationwide.

Bellport High School, which includes approximately 1,300 students, achieved a graduation rate of 87 percent in 2020, compared to 85 percent nationwide. At the Regents 2019 exams, 74 percent of students met English standards, compared to 80 percent nationwide; 58 percent met math standards, up from 70 percent nationwide.

Long Island Rail Road provides train services from Bellport Station to Brooklyn and Manhattan. The direct train, which leaves Bellport on weekdays at 6:44, arrives at Penn Station at 8:23 and costs $ 17. (Maximum price is $ 23.50.)

The drive time to Midtown Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway is approximately 90 minutes in reasonable traffic.

In 1815, Thomas Bell, a naval captain who worked for an American coastal rescue company and collected rescue from ships that ran aground on Fire Island, sailed through a gap in a long sandy stretch and crashed into land that would later be Bellport. With his brother John Bell, he developed the area as a port and shipyard. Eventually, the breach closed, cutting its way to the open ocean, and Bellport became a popular 19th-century resort.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy reopened what is now known as Bellport Inlet. This provided the unexpected advantage of being able to wash away debris from the bay, improving water clarity. Additional aid was provided by oysters and molluscs landed in the water by a group called Friends of Bellport Bay – 1 million creatures since October.

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