The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals heard yet another dock application on July 26 that sparked controversy over environmental issues and precedents.
Kevin Fee of East Lake Drive in Montauk needs a natural resources special permit to construct a 159-by-4-foot fixed dock, a 12-by-3-foot ramp, or catwalk, and a 20-by-6-foot float with pilings on a one-acre property with tidal and freshwater wetlands in a flood zone. The dock would extend into the lake approximately 74 feet past the high-tide line.
Mr. Fee has been in front of the zoning board before, according to Richard Hammer, an attorney who has worked for the Fee family since 2005, when they applied for permission to demolish the house on their property and build a new one in its place.
Now the Fees are seeking permission to reconstruct a dock that they claim was pre-existing. In 2003, Donald Sharkey, then the chief building inspector, determined that the dock was eligible for an emergency building permit, Mr. Hammer said. “It wasn’t pursued, as house construction and reconstruction was going on, and the dock became a second priority,” the attorney said. “The Department of Environmental Conservation gave its approval, and suggested let’s improve the house first, then move on to the dock.”
“What we’re proposing now is within town regulations — water depth requirements, construction techniques,” Mr. Hammer said. However, there are some technicalities that the board will have to address. Under town code, only a pre-existing dock can be rebuilt or replaced. New docks have to be floating, and no part of them, including a catwalk or ramp between a catwalk and the rest of the dock, is to contact bottomland during normal low tide. They are also limited to no more than five feet in width.
In addition to the legal technicalities, the environment has changed since 2003, and should also be considered, said Jeremy Samuelson, an environmental advocate with Group for the East End. “Why don’t we get a fresh analysis from the person empowered under state law to give us that analysis?” he asked.
“The code is pretty clear, you come in under a rebuild or a new application,” Mr. Samuelson said. “This application doesn’t come in clearly under either one, and yet the applicant wants the benefits of both. It’s not at all clear how the Z.B.A. could justify approving this in its current form.”
A number of Montauk residents spoke at the hearing and most of them were opposed to the application.
A recent zoning board decision approving the 15-foot extension of Peter Kalikow’s 149-foot dock off his Star Island Road property on Lake Montauk was a point of concern for some. The board’s approval of that application “triggered other dock applications,” said Richard Kahn, who has lived on Lake Montauk since 1965. “You set a precedent that would haunt not only the Z.B.A., but the entire town.”
In defense, the zoning board’s chairman, Phil Gamble, replied, “Our decision on Kalikow was not to let everyone put a dock on their house. This one is 159 feet.”
According to town code, the only new docks allowed in Lake Montauk are fully removable floating docks.
Worried about future ramifications Mr. Kahn claimed, “If you approve this one, you’re going to have a flood of applications.”
“There is no existing dock now, and there hasn’t been one there for at least 25 years,” said Phillip Wiseman, a neighbor to the north of the Fees. He claimed that the survey from 2009 showed there was nothing there then, and that there is nothing there now. “Our family has been there for 60 years, we know what’s there and not there,” he said.
Aerial photos revealed something in the area, said Mr. Gamble, which sparked a discussion over what sort of structure actually constitutes a dock.
“Since this dock will extend 60 feet seaward, we can expect environmental impacts of a new dock. There is going to be turbidity on pilings, and circulation patterns. The board has to look at that, and be aware of accumulative impacts on this property and similar other properties. . . . Really you’re building a dock in an area where you haven’t had one before,” said Brian Frank, a chief environmental analyst for the town.
He suggested that the boat mooring already on the property could be used as an alternative to a dock, or if reconstruction was going to occur, a less substantial plan could be explored instead of the one proposed. There is magnitude to this decision, as “this portion of Lake Montauk is a state significant habitat,” said Mr. Frank.
The hearing lasted well into the night, prompting Mr. Hammer to note, “There’s a lot of passion in this room for Lake Montauk.” The hearing was closed.
The board has until late September to make a decision on the application, but has yet to discuss the comments made at the hearing in a work session.