During its first set of hearings of the year on Tuesday, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals heard comments on a controversial application that could set a precedent for coastal erosion structures in the town.
The applicants, Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux, own a house at 157 Mulford Lane in Amagansett, with Gardiner’s Bay literally in their backyard.
With erosion threatening their house, the owners want to demolish their one-story, 1,200-square-foot residence and build a new 1,719-square-foot, two-story one on pilings farther from the water’s edge, and to construct a 115-linear-foot stone revetment with a 32-foot vinyl seawall return, which will be contained on their property. The house is to have a 789-square-foot deck on both levels.
A total of nine variances have been requested, including a natural resources permit and permission to install a new coastal erosion structure where town code does not allow for it. Some of the variances are required because the land contains tidal wetlands, freshwater wetlands, barrier dunes, surface waters, and beach vegetation. Mr. Young and Ms. Lemieux also need relief from the town’s pyramid law, and a variance from coastal erosion district overlay regulations.
The project was in front of the board on Aug. 30, and has since been modified following recommendations from the board and the Suffolk County Health Department. The septic system is now in the southeast corner of the property, the dimensions of the house have been decreased, and it has been relocated to the rear of the lot. The application was rushed to a hearing in the summer due to storm damage to the house from a Dec. 27, 2010, storm and the likelihood that there would be more storms this winter that could threaten it further. In a memo dated Feb. 11, 2011, Tom Talmage, the East Hampton Town engineer, said that the house was in “immediate peril.”
In August, the applicants were looking into the possibility of working together with other neighbors on a rock revetment. Also, the Napeague Beach Club, a group of Mulford Lane residents, had plans to build a rock revetment at the end of the road. Mr. Young and Ms. Lemieux were given more time to formulate a joint application with neighbors.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services, who was representing Mr. Young and Ms. Lemieux, distributed a memo with the latest revisions to the plans, which include a further reduction of the house size. As of press time, these plans had not been submitted, and she requested the record be left open so they could be. Ms. Wiltshire also informed the board that her clients recently discovered that Kevin Klenke, a neighbor who agreed to be a part of the application, had since changed his mind and is supposedly building his own rock revetment. Apparently the Napeague Beach Club has moved forward with its plans and, according to Ms. Wiltshire, “We heard there was a revetment put up last week, and we don’t know how.”
On Nov. 21, the East Hampton Town Trustees approved a permit allowing the Napeague Beach Club to build a 70-foot-long sand and rock revetment, to be built in three layers.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has not submitted its comments on the Young-Lemieux proposal. Ms. Wiltshire said her clients had been waiting for Mr. Klenke to join forces with them before providing the D.E.C. with the proposal. They finally submitted their plans to the department at the end of December.
Christopher Kelley, the applicants’ attorney, talked about the latest revisions, which include moving the house to the southwest corner of the property, which would have less of an impact on Mr. Klenke, who lives east of them, and to New York State property, which is to the west.
“We moved the revetment back, and coordinated efforts with Mr. Klenke. We did what we could, and designed a proposal to cover his property, and the road association,” he said. “The road association built their own revetment at the end of the road. It has a return on the east side of the property, which goes to the edge of the road bed. If that’s the case, we have an armored road end, and Klenke has his do-it-yourself rock revetment, and we’re trying to play by the rules.”
“There was an interruption of sand in this area, we’re in a situation of last resort,” said Drew Bennett, an engineer for the applicants. “We have very little opportunity to work with this property. There’s no beach or dune left to be a buffer. . . .” Based on earlier suggestions from the board, he said, the applicants reduced the footprint of the house, and met sanitary code standards. However, the Suffolk County Health Department does not want a septic tank under the driveway, where it is now proposed, and has not issued a variance.
“I’m not crazy about hard structures on the beach. I don’t want to see stones, a jetty, but unfortunately, this is the Alamo,” said Steve Graboski, a neighbor. “This application is very important, and it’s time that we have to abandon some of the old-time thinking — sand, sand bags — what they propose here is appropriate. It will protect their property and the neighborhood.”
Rameshwar Das, a former chairman of the town’s waterfront advisory committee and an author of the local waterfront revitalization plan, spoke against the revetment. Emphasizing that he was speaking “purely as an observer,” Mr. Das discussed how shoreline recession has increased dramatically in the area, taking with it two or three houses. “The sacrifice and balance you need to consider is the protection of private property and the public resources, which is the beaches. That’s a loss to the public, that’s a recreational beach,” Mr. Das said.
He referred to a recent study about sea-level rise projections and global warming, conducted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “I don’t think it’s going to get better,” Mr. Das said. “The estimate for sea-level rise is 1 to 5 inches by the 2020s, an increase of 5 to 12 inches by the 2050s, and 8 to 23 inches by the 2080s. Using those figures, by the 2020s, rough calculations are a 6-to-30-foot shoreline moving back. By the 2050s, it’s 30 to 75 feet. Now that might not be the exact correspondence, the shoreline may differ somewhat, but basically, I think you’re talking about permitting a fishing reef. That is what’s going to happen on the shoreline of this town.”
“Realistically speaking, this is going to be a problem that will multiply and probably be on your plate more often than not for years here,” Mr. Das told the board. “I’m not sure if there’s a good solution. It [the house] will go, even with the revetment.”
Tom Steele, an East Hampton resident and photographer, also spoke against the application. “I have a stake in this project. Variances will alter the landscape in Lazy Point, and cause immediate damage to the wetlands and unduly enrich the applicant,” he said. With a total of nine variances, which Mr. Steele called “extreme,” the project will “mar the Lazy Point coastline.”
“This person purchased this property when erosion was well known and documented,” Mr. Steele said.
“The applicant took a speculative risk, and this is clearly is a self-created hardship,” Mr. Steel said. “There is a phrase, ‘buyer beware.’ This will set a precedent for properties in peril, and subvert the integrity of our zoning laws.”
Brian Frank, the Planning Department’s chief environmental analyst, said the application was changed to incorporate some of the things the department wanted; however, “Our principal concerns now are the same as in August when we had our initial public hearing. . . . Essentially the Planning Department’s opinion is that this is a poor candidate for relief for the nine variances requested.”
“It’s best to hold off on hardening a shoreline and explore other alternatives,” Mr. Frank said. “It’s the last resort. Coastal shorelines are extremely dynamic, and we’re not sure what is going to happen with it here.” He suggested that stabilization in that location almost always causes severe impact and recession. “We have to learn from history or we’re just going to repeat mistakes,” Mr. Frank said. He recommended that the board wait for comments from the D.E.C. before making a decision.
When discussing viable alternatives, such as a “soft solution” like a sandbag revetment, Don Cirillo, the zoning board’s vice chairman, asked, “To what end should an applicant go out and put in a temporary structure?” He wanted a rationale for an added expense to the applicant that would take more time, and perhaps not work as well as the proposed revetment.
“To what end does the board want to go to retain the natural features of the property, and not make things worse out here?” Mr. Frank responded.
The board voted to keep the record open until Jan. 31 to allow the D.E.C. more time to submit comments, as well as the applicants.