Sea Wall Decision Prompts Trustees to Sue Z.B.A.

Claim project would be on public property
The East Hampton Town Trustees have sued the town zoning board of appeals over its decision to allow a sea wall to be built in front of a house owned by Christiane Lemieux and Joshua Young at Lazy Point, Amagansett. David E. Rattray

    The East Hampton Town Trustees have taken the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals to court. In documents filed in State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Dec. 28, the trustees sought to annul a Nov. 30 Z.B.A. decision approving the construction of a stone revetment on the shore of Gardiner’s Bay. Arguments will be heard on Feb. 12.
    The suit also names Joshua Young and Christiane Lemieux, owners of a house at 157 Mulford Lane, in the Lazy Point area of Amagansett, who received the okay for  the 147-foot revetment. The appeals board had denied the homeowners’ application on March 13, but reversed itself following the project’s approval by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
    The dune seaward of the couple’s house on what was once a parcel of one-third acre has been eroded to the point that storm surge and subsequent flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy and subsequent northeasters leave the house vulnerable to future storms. Erosion has already claimed houses to seaward
    David Eagan of the Wainscott firm Eagan and Matthews is the attorney for the trustees. Neither John Jilnicki, the town attorney, nor Robert Connolly, the attorney for the Z.B.A., returned calls by press time.
    The suit alleges that the Z.B.A. made a number of errors in approving the revetment. For one thing, it claims that the board has agreed the wall can be built north of the high-water line, which is seaward of the current Young-Lemieux property line and therefore, the suit says, on beach owned by the trustees on behalf of the public.
    The suit also claims that in approving the revetment the Z.B.A. had determined that the applicants’  house was in imminent danger, “when in fact the Z.B.A. had previously granted the owners the necessary relief to demolish the existing residence and construct a new 1,719-square-foot residence on pilings in a more landward location.” Having first offered an alternative means of saving the house precludes the Z.B.A.’s “imminent danger” finding, the suit claims. 
    Also alleged is that approval was not based on any change of law or circumstance that warranted a departure from the board’s denial of the original application, which was for variances and a natural resources permit for a nearly identical rock revetment seven months earlier. 
    Although approved by the Z.B.A., no building permit had been issued for the project at the time of the trustees’ filing.
    “It’s black and white,” Mr. Eagan said yesterday. “They [the applicants] didn’t meet the standards of imminent peril,” Mr. Eagan said. “It’s why the Z.B.A. approved relocation in the first place. They didn’t exhaust the alternatives. They didn’t relocate.”
    Reached yesterday morning, Diane McNally, the presiding officer, or clerk, of the trustees, said the Z.B.A. had “abdicated to the D.E.C.” in making a decision that should have been based on the town code and the long-standing authority of the trustees as owners of public land.
     Although private property once extended seaward of the Young-Lemieux land, Ms. McNally said that once the land  eroded and was claimed by the sea, it became bottomland owned by the public. 
    During the trustees’ 2013 organizational meeting Tuesday night, Ms. McNally was reappointed clerk. Stephanie Forsberg was named assistant clerk again, John Courtney remained the board’s attorney, and Lori Miller-Carr was again appointed secretary.