Broadview Divided on Dock Repair

Neighbors argue about the future of old Bell pier, while experts disagree
Some members of a bayfront property owners association in Amagansett would like to see a rusted dock there rebuilt. Other residents of the area oppose the idea. Heather Dubin

    The future of a deteriorating, almost landlocked dock in Gardiner’s Bay is making waves among members of the Broadview Property Owners Association, who own houses in what was once Amaganset’s Bell Estate.
    The question is whether the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals should grant a natural resources permit and a variance to allow the association to replace a portion of the dock with a shorter section and remove its about 30-foot-long L section that runs parallel to the beach.
    The quarrel hinges, in part, on who would benefit from the work and whether the dock causes or limits erosion.
    Five members of the association have waterfront properties with a direct view of the beach and the dock. Dr. Dennistoun Bell, who bought 500 acres there 95 years ago, built the dock in 1931 after giving the East Hampton Town Trustees upland property near Fresh Pond for a park in exchange for the beach in front of his property, from Albert’s Landing to Barnes Hole Road.
    At the time, the dock, which is now in shallow water, was in water deep enough for Dr. Bell’s 70-foot-long yacht. The property was developed after Reginald Lewis bought it for approximately $4 million in 1988. Three years later Dr. Bell’s mansion, Broadview, burned to the ground. All that remains of its original grandeur is the dock and a covered  stairway, from the bluff to the beach.
     At 107 feet long and 21 feet wide, the proposed replacement dock would be the widest in East Hampton Town and one of the longest, though it would not reach navigable waters.
    The new dock would “preserve what’s important and the functionality of it,” Richard Warren, of Inter-Science, a land-use consulting firm, said at a hearing the Z.B.A. held on May 31. The benefit, he said would be to the property and the beach, and the dock would be decked so that members of the association could sit on it.
    Lee Weishar, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Group, also spoke on behalf of the association. He said erosion would accelerate if the dock were removed. He added that the dock “has been holding land form back over the past few years.”
    “In the first year, the loss would be 160 linear feet in this land form, and within three years there would be 20 to 50 feet left,” Dr. Weishar said.
    Rather than leave the rusted and decaying structure as is, Mr. Warren said,    “We’re actually going to protect the character of the neighborhood by protecting the dunes. The sand supply coming from the north is limited, and it’s important to keep the structure to maintain the beach.”
    Rameshwar Das, who lives in Barnes Landing and was instrumental in developing the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, also is in favor of repair. In an interview this week, he said that “because the shoreline system has been so disrupted and the sand supply has been impounded by the bulkheads, revetments, and groins to the north, the Bell dock is the only thing holding the Barnes Landing beach in place.”
    While the variance sought is not permissible under the L.W.R.P, he called it “less than evil in my book. I’m all for natural shorelines; that’s what the whole focus of the L.W.R.P. is. When you’re dealing with systems that have been severely messed up, then you have to deal with the real world, and that’s where we are at this juncture,” Mr. Das said.
    The members of the association who oppose the plan, however, say the dock functions as a groin, holding back the natural flow of sand, and that it has had a damaging effect on the shoreline.
    “It has exacerbated erosion south of Fresh Pond and deposited sand to the north of the dock. Ironically, the dock is a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the public sand and depositing it on a people’s wealthy beach,” Dr. Mark Davis, an association member and a veterinarian, said at the meeting. He is among those association members who want the dock to erode or be removed, “Let it naturalize,” he said.
    Opponents also claim that some members of the association try to prevent the public from the use of the beach. According to a covenant at the time of the exchange between Dr. Bell and the trustees, the public is only allowed to “traverse” the beach. Although the application suggests the work would benefit the public, in their opinion, the benefit would be exclusive to members of the association.
    The divisiveness among association members has been exacerbated by the money they are being assessed in connection with the plan.
    “It’s been over $60,000 collectively so far for surveys and legal fees so that someone can have a nice view,” Neal Gabler, a writer and association member, said after the Z.B.A. meeting. The dock’s repair was estimated to cost $300,000 in an analysis six years ago. More recent estimates range from $350,000 to $600,000.
    “I get a usage fee for 10 grand?” Mr. Gabler asked. “That’s absolutely ridiculous. This is almost a test of the Hamptons. If that money is burning a hole in their pocket, why don’t they give it to charity?”
    The zoning board’s task is complicated by the L.W.R.P. because it divides the shoreline into zones, some of which are more restrictive than others. A portion of the dock is in zone 2, which does not permit any repair or replacement of hard structures along the beach. The other part is in zone 4, which is the least restrictive.
    Brian Frank, the chief environmental analyst for the Town Planning Department, who gave his analysis at the hearing, agrees that the L.W.R.P. is unclear because the dock is in two different zones.
    According to Mr. Frank, if the dock were to remain as is, it would continue to leak sand and the profile of the beach south of the dock would alter with time. Removal of the dock could cause the loss of the dune area to the north, he said, but most of the shoreline would naturalize and straighten out.
    The Planning Department did not recommend that the application be rejected, but only said that the equilibrium of the beach would take longer to achieve if the dock were repaired rather than removed.
    “The one thing that is predictable out here is that the shoreline is unpredictable,” Mr. Frank said in an interview this week.
    Commenting on the width of the dock, Mr. Frank said, “I’m assuming that they’re really just following the footprint of the old structure. Maybe it makes it more of a pedestrian-friendly service making it that wide.”
    The width also drew a comment from Mr. Gabler. “A time ago, before its deterioration, it was occasionally used for social events. Once someone had a wedding there,” he said.
    The Z.B.A. is expected to reach a decision in the next few weeks.