While many places on the East End were still without power on Tuesday night, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals was able to hold one of three scheduled hearings under the bright fluorescent lights of Town Hall. Two hearings were postponed because applicants were unable to attend.
The hearing was on a complex application to demolish a one-story house on a small lot on Gardiner’s Bay, build a 1,836-square-foot new one with 759 square feet of decking, and construct a roughly 160-foot-long stone revetment to armor the beach. The land contains tidal and freshwater wetlands, barrier dunes with surface waters, and beach vegetation.
Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux, the owners of the property, at 157 Mulford Lane, have asked for a natural resources permit and variances from wetland setbacks, coastal setbacks, and the regulations of the coastal erosion overlay district, which prohibit new erosion control structures.
Before the hearing got under way, Philip Gamble, the Z.B.A. chairman, noted that this week’s storm had spared the property. Nevertheless, he noted, “From photos, it looks like the house is in the water.”
There had been applications before the Z.B.A. previously about the parking area on Mulford Lane and about erosion, Mr. Gamble said. “One more storm event, and we wouldn’t have to worry about this house.” Aerial photos submitted to the Z.B.A. show how the area looked years ago.
The applicants bought the 87-by-110-foot property in May of 2010. Subsequently, they submitted an application that “was held in abeyance until future work could be looked into. We agreed to do so, and the applicant knew about impending problems.” Now, he said, the application “was put in post-haste for public hearing. We don’t want to be accused of dragging our feet and have that house fall in the water because of a scheduling problem. But the applicant may have other issues that he may need to address before he makes his presentation.”
“The applicant didn’t do his homework because otherwise he would’ve seen the regression of shoreline erosion. It naturally occurs. The house is now completely seaward of the shoreline, and there was a time when there was a lovely beach before the shoreline. The applicant has a severe erosion problem, and the property to the east has a severe erosion problem,” Mr. Gamble said.
According to Mr. Gamble, “A house in this area is just a temporary situation. To take a house down, and put up a whole new house that is larger, and put this [revetment] up to protect it, is a tough sell to me. I’m worried about jeopardizing the house to the east. You can’t do a project by protecting one house and putting another one in danger.”
Christopher Kelley, attorney for the applicants, told the board that the owner of the house to the east, Kevin Klenke, has now said it makes sense to work together. In addition to Mr. Klenke’s house, another house sits on stilts and yet another is built on pilings in the area.
“It’s a chicken and egg problem. If we aren’t going to be able to get a shoreline structure, then it’s going to change what we can do,” Mr. Kelley said. He wanted more time to submit a revised proposal along with an updated survey and an upgraded sanitation plan. He also presented a letter from Mr. Klenke requesting additional time for a joint application.
According to Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Service, permits had been obtained in the past to renovate and raise the house. “Last summer, we didn’t have the urgency as there was a fair amount of beach in front of the house.” All that changed on Dec. 27, 2010, in a northeast storm. She added that Tom Talmage, the town engineer, had written in a memo that if a storm hits this area, knee-high water hits the house.
“Hurricane Irene was a real potential threat to this house, it was spared now, but winter has the opposite effect,” Ms. Wiltshire said. She appealed for emergency assistance and expedited permits. “Otherwise, the house is not likely to survive the winter.”
Drew Bennett, an engineer for the applicants, said, “Sixty years ago, we had 200 feet of beach in front of this residence, and it has disappeared. The rate of erosion from 1954 to 1980 was a foot a year, and since 2004, it has been 10 or 11 feet a year. In 2004, the west inlet [at Napeague Harbor] was open. The recession rate has picked up dramatically in the last 5 to 10 years. We’ve already lost two homes, and we’re about to lose more.”
Maureen Veprek, president of a Mulford Lane homeowners group, known as the Napeague Beach Club, said no one in the association objected to the application. She also informed the board that the association wants to put rocks at the road-end. She was advised to submit an application.
Mr. Kelley suggested that the association also join the Young-Lemieux application so that one shore-hardening structure could be put up “to protect us, the neighbor, and the road, if all sign on and acknowledge we need permits.”
According to Brian Frank, the Planning Department’s chief environmental analyst, a shore structure may be necessary, but he advised the board to be sure the right specifications were mandated. “These coastal manipulations, dredging, or shore-hardening structures have lasting effects, a shadow that goes longer than these properties. That’s what makes managing these applications so frustrating. You don’t really solve the problem, you move it,” Mr. Frank said.
“If the town doesn’t do a better job than it has over the past 20 years, we’re going to have less beaches, and more homeowners who have to retreat or revet. It’s a lose-lose,” he said.
Mr. Frank said the applicant would have to revise the plans “to reduce the size of the footprint, and try to locate the sanitary system and residence side by side. Increasing a house by 50 percent on a lot with these conditions takes a difficult situation and makes it exponentially worse.”
Ms. Wiltshire said the situation required an emergency permit, but Mr. Frank disagreed. “It’s a finding of fact. You can’t approve a poor project to address an emergency issue,” he said. “You’re being asked to hurry up when it doesn’t seem like the other involved agencies have been able to catch up to the information.”
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation has asked for additional time to comment on the application. In a letter dated Aug. 30, Carole Friedman, a land management assistant, said, “Due to the environmentally sensitive nature of this bluff and other factors, we would like our engineers to have time to review the plans.”
The record was left open for the next three weeks so the plans can be revised, and the state will have time to respond. The redesigned project will be also have to go to the Suffolk County Board of Health, regarding sanitation. Mr. Frank asked that questions be answered and updated concerning the survey, the location of the sanitary system, and the rock revetment.