In an unfortunate reversal, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has given permission for Lazy Point property owners to build a sea wall in a zone where none are allowed under town law. What makes this bad decision all the worse is that the same board had denied an essentially identical request earlier this year. Complicating the situation was that the State Department of Environmental Conservation handed out approval for the sea wall in direct, but so far unexplained, violation of an agreement with the town that is supposed to make state agencies follow East Hampton’s rules. But the state’s complicity is hardly an excuse for the 3-to-2 Z.B.A. capitulation.
The area in question is also under East Hampton Town Trustee jurisdiction, but that board’s approval was neither sought nor granted, even though the trustees twice sent letters to the Z.B.A. and state reminding them that it too must be consulted.
Sea walls (revetments, technically) are built as far back from the water’s edge as possible. But a landward-migrating shoreline — as at Lazy Point — will very quickly erode whatever beach remains right up to the revetment’s base. Scouring then becomes an issue for neighboring properties, which means these owners will also seek permission to armor their beachfront. Unfortunately, elected officials are, perhaps by definition, unable to say, “Too bad. You bought where you shouldn’t, now suffer the consequences.” Property trumps all; the public be damned.
Already two houses that had once stood on dry land in this area have been lost to the encroachment of Gardiner’s Bay. One was torn down at taxpayers’ expense, the other remains on stilts over the water, a testament to human folly. The couple who bought the Mulford Lane property (in 2010, no less) should have been told about the risk if they didn’t understand it. Buyer beware, sure, but apparently not when you’re talking about real estate in the Hamptons.
The beach in this area is not coming back anytime soon, and more armoring is bound to follow. The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and D.E.C., in their flawed and illegal rulings for the Mulford Lane property, have set a devastating precedent when they should have upheld the law. Public right of passage, assured since the 1686 Dongan Patent, disappears.