The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals heard a potentially precedent-setting request Tuesday from an Amagansett property owners association that would like to rebuild a portion of the steel dock at the former Bell Estate on Gardiner’s Bay. The Broadview subdivision, named after a mansion that burned there in 1991, contains a number of properties overlooking the water. The seaward end of its dock has largely rusted away into ruin.
The association’s board has asked for permission to replace a 107-foot-long section of the pier and line part of it with rock “armor.” The problem for the association is that this kind of work has been prohibited since the East Hampton Town Board adopted the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program in 1999, which was approved by state regulators in 2007 and gained federal approval the following year.
Under the rules, reconstruction of coastal structures, such as the Broadview dock, is not allowed. An exception can be made if the structure can be shown to have a public or environmental benefit. The tumbledown pier under the Broadview bluffs will have neither; it appears to have mainly an aesthetic value to some of the association’s members who would like to see it tidied up.
Worrisome, too, is the question of what use the association would want to put such a large pier to in the future. Is the Broadview board privately considering plans to someday seek permission to dredge the section of bay bottom immediately adjacent to the dock, to allow access by deep-draft vessels — like the 70-foot yacht Dennistoun Bell once kept there?
And why does all this matter? Because the town’s waterfront revitalization plan, at its core, is there to preserve both the environment and the free passage of visitors and residents along the public shore. Some have argued that the Broadview dock, by blocking the movement of sand, is already narrowing the public beach at Albert’s Landing to the south. (And, as a footnote, the dock was an impediment to police and county medical investigators trying to reach the body of a man found on the beach nearby on May 22.)
There may be times and places in which our hard-won rules on coastal structures must be bent. This is not one of them.