The owners of two neighboring properties facing Gardiner’s Bay in Springs, part of the Clearwater Beach Association, would like to install a revetment that would span both sites, but must first obtain a variance from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. Their application for a natural resources special permit, the latest in a series related to beach erosion caused by Hurricane Sandy, came before the board on June 4.
The contiguous properties, at 235 and 237 King’s Point Road, are owned by Virginia Schmidt and David Wagner respectively. The neighbors have worked together to design a 180-foot-long protective structure of pre-formed concrete panels and rebar, held in place by helical wall anchors. There would be a 20-foot backwash to the east, on Ms. Schmidt’s property, which, like Mr. Wagner’s, is just under 30,000 square feet in size. The special permit is required because the lands contain coastal bluffs and wetlands.
According to a memo prepared for the board by Brian Frank, the East Hampton Town Planning Department’s chief environmental analyst, several surveys done on the area since 1992 show that erosion on the two properties has been minimal, at most, over the years, until Sandy. That single event, Mr. Frank said, would not justify what he called an overly aggressive approach to the problem.
“I think everything in this area shows that this is a reasonable candidate for coastal restoration, as opposed to a hard revetment,” he told the members of the zoning board.
In both his memo and his comments, Mr. Frank said the board needed to decide if the landowners had ever attempted restoration using softer, more natural protective structures — logs, for example — or tried bringing in more sand, and if not, whether such a radical approach as a concrete revetment was the only alternative. The planner indicated that there was no history, in the way of permits issued, to show that such simpler restoration had ever been tried.
Mr. Wagner, the president of the Clearwater Property Development Association, saw things differently. “We’ve been trying for 17 years to use natural solutions,” he said. “I’m 73 years old. I’m getting tired. It’s easy to say we may not have another storm. The idea of soft soil is almost an absurdity.”
A neighboring landowner had tried bringing in sand, he told the board, at the cost of $80,000, only to see it all washed out into the bay over the course of two years.
Mr. Wagner described his experience during Sandy, saying that he and his wife ran from the house and fled in their car. “The roof was shattering. Three rooms flooded. I really don’t want to go through this again,” he said, adding that the beach had lost 17 feet in the storm.
The East Hampton Town Trustees, like the Planning Department, opposed the application, though it is uncertain whether that board has jurisdiction in the matter. Diane E. McNally, the trustee clerk, suggested that the 17 feet of erosion may mean that the mean high water mark is now where the revetment would be built; in other words it is now public land. The trustees do have a say over public beach access.
“The homeowners came to us first,” she told the zoning board. “They are going from a pristine shoreline to an eight-foot wall.”
Mr. Frank cautioned the board against the possible consequences of a hardened structure, including “loss of beach, loss of public access to the beach, and possible coastal erosion to unprotected properties to the east.”