Dock Rebuild Denied

Cite potential negative impacts on three beaches

By Heather Dubin
    In a four-to-one vote last night, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals quashed the Broadview Property Owners Association’s application to remove and replace a crumbling dock at the Bell Estate on Gardiner’s Bay in Amagansett.
    “What’s there has been deteriorated,” said Phil Gamble, the board’s chairman. “The applicant wanted to remove an L portion of the dock, which is now debris and rubble. That’s the only thing left there for the applicant to remove. They also opted to shorten the dock 30 feet. But in lieu of shortening the dock — right now there’s no dock there — they want to remove the rubble and extend the dock. They want to add a rock groin. They want to make it the same size as what they’re eliminating.”
    “I thought that was disingenuous of the applicant,” Mr. Gamble said. “They’re not going to shorten it.”
    Much of the controversy surrounding this application stems from divisiveness among members of the property owners association, some of whom do not want to pay for the costly removal of the dock and its makeover. Also, the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan does not allow for reconstruction of coastal structures, and part of the dock is in a restrictive zone where repair or replacement of hard structures along a beach is forbidden.
    In its current state, the dock functions as a groin, holding back the natural flow of sand, according to neighbors opposed to the application. The area south of Fresh Pond and the dock is being eroded, and the sand is being deposited north of the dock, they say. Aerial photographs seem to support their claims.
    “We’ve never granted a groin in this town. To this date, no one has ever asked to put in a groin or jetty or whatever you want to call it,” Mr. Gamble said.
    The property owners association needed a variance and a natural resources special permit to carry out its plans, but does not need permission from the zoning board to remove portions of the dock that are deemed a safety hazard, Mr. Gamble said. “But that’s not what they want to do. They want to make a structure. They didn’t say that this structure will do anything recreationally. Nothing ever was said they wanted it for parties.”
    While the board has granted permits or bulkheads in the past, this has occurred only when there was imminent danger to the property. In this instance, Mr. Gamble was clear that this was not the case. Not granting the permit will not cause any further damage to properties along the shoreline, he said.
    Also, there are environmental issues at stake if the dock is rebuilt, according to Mr. Gamble. Currently, “sand bypasses it and nourishes beaches south of this particular dock. If we allow sand to go out, it will impede the sand if the dock is built out.” If the board were to approve the changes to the dock, properties closer to Fresh Pond could be “in peril in another 10 to 15 years,” Mr. Gamble said. “That’s an issue I’m torn with.”
    Other board members agreed with Mr. Gamble’s concerns. “I’m not sure if there will be any change to the shoreline if the natural resources permit was granted. . . . The town’s adopted L.W.R.P. is not specific to this structure. To me, as far as the standards are concerned, a classic case of detriment to the community far outweighs the application,” said Alex Walter, a board member.
    Although she was absent from the meeting, Sharon McCobb submitted her opposing vote via a memo: “There is not a situation here where a house is in peril. Shore construction should only be granted if a house is in trouble,” she wrote.
    “I’ll be a minority of one,” said Don Cirillo, the board’s vice chairman and the lone dissenting vote. “There’s a lot of documentation that this is a deteriorating dock. They’ve offered to clear up the beach and take care of it. I think it would be a good thing as opposed to a bad thing instead of letting it deteriorate further.”
    Mr. Cirillo also questioned why the entire project was turned down without an offer of alternatives. “You often let people come back and modify applications,” he said.
    “They could come up with a plan that is not as ambitious. It’s up to them to come up with a plan,” Mr. Gamble said. “I’m asking for a whole new design,” he added. “I am making a motion to deny what is in front of us.”
    Lee White, another board member, concurred with the majority vote.
    “It was once a dock, but it doesn’t serve a purpose as a dock. This is a project 20 times greater than the applicant has said. We have to have a method of consistency,” Mr. Gamble said.
    “You’re turning down the whole thing carte blanche?” Mr. Cirillo asked.
    “Yes, there are potential impact possibilities for three beaches. We create a blockage of sand, we have a loss of beach in those areas — Albert’s Landing, Little Albert’s, and Fresh Pond,” Mr. Gamble said.
    “I think your points are well taken,” Mr. Cirillo said. “They should have been raised at a public hearing so the applicant could have had the opportunity to change this. You’re raising significant issues after the public hearing.”
    Mr. Gamble explained that the process involves hearing from the experts and the people involved, and rendering a decision later that is based on all the information conveyed. “I’m not going to predispose the case,” he said.
    “I find there are problems that were not properly addressed,” Mr. Gamble said. “I asked that night of the hearing, the length of dock. They said we’re shortening the dock. But when you look at the proposed project, they’re taking off specific feet, whatever they’re taking off, they’re putting back with a rock revetment. This is not just a couple of stones piled on the beach. This is a substantial groin.”
    Defeated, Mr. Cirillo said, “You have it, four to one. Next.” The final determination will be signed in a few weeks.