The Mulford Lane Revetment Muddle

The East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals is considering an application to tear down and rebuild a house on Mulford Lane in Amagansett
The East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals is considering an application to tear down and rebuild a house on Mulford Lane in Amagansett, along with the construction of a rock revetment to prevent further erosion. Morgan McGivern

    The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals once again discussed a divisive application on Tuesday that includes a request for a stone revetment on Gardiner’s Bay near Lazy Point, but tabled a decision until at least Feb. 28.
    Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux want to tear down their 1,200-square-foot, one-story house on Mulford Lane and in its place build a new 1,719-square-foot, two-story house on pilings with a deck. The new house would be farther from the bay and protected by a 115-linear-foot stone revetment with a 32-foot vinyl seawall return, all on the couple’s property.
    The zoning board first discussed the project last summer, rushing it to a hearing before fall storms based on a Feb. 11, 2011, memo from Tom Talmage, the East Hampton Town engineer, who said the house was in “immediate peril,” much of it due to damage sustained from a Dec. 27, 2010, storm.
    The couple revised the application following an Aug. 30 hearing. They had wanted to work with neighbors on a joint application, and were given more time from the board to do so, but by the second hearing of the application on Jan. 17, Kevin Klenke, a neighbor to the east of their property, had declined to be part of their application. (New York State owns the property to the west of the applicants.) The record was held open until Jan. 31 for comments from the D.E.C., and the applicants. An additional week was also added for the town trustees to submit their input.
    Mr. Young and Ms. Lemieux need nine variances, including relief from regulations protecting tidal and freshwater wetlands, barrier dunes, surface waters, and beach vegetation. The project also requires a natural resources permit and permission to install a new coastal erosion structure where town code prohibits it. Additionally, a variance is sought from coastal erosion district overlay regulations, and from the town’s pyramid law.
    Before the zoning board began discussing the application on Tuesday, Lynn Mendelman, a town trustee, attempted to address the board and questioned which  board was the lead agency for the application.
    Robert Connelly, an assistant town attorney, informed her that the hearing had been closed on Feb. 7. “The record is closed. I understand the trustees want to make a comment. But if the applicant needs to get a permit from the trustees, they can get a comment from the trustees at that time,” he said.
    Ms. Mendelman was uncertain if the project would require a permit from the trustees, but said she had attended Tuesday’s meeting at the request of the trustees, and submitted a letter from them opposing the application.
    “As far as we know, we’ve been on this since July, and we haven’t heard from the trustees since then,” said Alex Walters, the zoning board’s chairman, saying that his board has jurisdiction in this application. Mr. Walters said the trustees wrote to the zoning board in January asking for the opportunity to weigh in on the project. The zoning board gave them the opportunity, but “we hadn’t heard from them as of last week,” he said.
    Don Cirillo, the board’s vice chairman, added that the East Hampton Town Planning Department reviewed the application and determined that the zoning board should take the lead on reviewing it. “There is no jurisdiction for trustees because it abuts private property,” he said.
    “It’s a difficult circumstance in that water has invaded pretty close to this applicant’s property now,” he said. Mr. Cirillo talked to a neighbor who has lived in the area for 50 years. “She said Mulford had extended well over 120 feet into the water, and there was also a parking lot that is in the water,” he said. Mr. Cirillo said he was unaware of any objection from neighbors.
    “It’s only fair to allow someone to try to do something, as long as it doesn’t invade onto someone’s property and make other changes,” he said. “High tide, it’s coming onto this guy’s property and going right underneath his porch. A strong wind or storm would be very detrimental to the property now. It could well result in losing his house.”
    “This property definitely needs some type of relief,” said Bryan Gosman, a board member. “The lot doesn’t leave it with many options, except for moving the house back. Which isn’t really the best option because of the speed of the erosion. Some type of revetment is needed. I don’t think anyone knows the total environmental impact.”
    Sharon McCobb, another board member, agreed the house needs to be moved back; however, she expressed concern over the coastal erosion structure. “I have a problem with this revetment,” she said. “The way it sits on the survey, the Klenke house will be gone. I don’t see how this house is going to survive.” Ms. McCobb had spoken with Mr. Klenke while observing the property and said his house will be affected. “I’ve seen the revetments work, and I’ve seen the houses next door get killed,” she said. Ms. McCobb suggested other properties join forces to help prevent the erosion. “This is a project that needs to be bigger than what it is,” she said.   
    “In situations like this, there’s going to be knee-high water in two months,” said Lee White, a board member. “You’re going to impact both properties with this one structure. We’ve seen this on Gerard Drive and Sound Avenue. You put in one, everyone has to do it. It’s a precarious situation.” If the applicants receive permission to build the revetment, the neighbor’s house will be gone, Mr. White said. “They’re both going to be gone,” Mr.Gosman added.
    Ms. McCobb raised the issue that the applicant had purchased the house recently. “This has been a problem for a very long time. He purchased this house with this kind of situation,” she said, “For this to benefit him and hurt the neighbor, no.”
    Mr. Walters reminded the board that the house was purchased in 2010; however, the December storm had damaged the property. “It got a whole lot worse after that,” he said. Mr. Walters said the application will need a D.E.C. permit, and requested that the board wait to make a decision until the D.E.C. had made one first. “Any approval will be contingent on it,” he said.
    “Most of us agree; it’s reasonable for him to move the house back. As for the revetment, no one can tell you what it’s really going to do. We can surmise,” Mr. Walters said. The question to board members is whether or not they will allow applicants to do all they can to protect their property in an emergency situation. “This area is also in the town board’s hands. They are talking about dredging, and don’t know which channel they’re going to do,” he said. “We can’t wait for them, but we have to make a decision.”
    Mr. Cirillo asked board members who were opposed to the revetment for alternatives. He said that moving the house away from the water will buy the applicant some time. “It won’t fall in the water now,” he said. “But two years from now it could. Before we take away his property, what do you suggest in lieu of a revetment?”
    “Until the neighbor is on board, there are soft solutions,” Ms. McCobb replied.
    “Eventually it will get to his property. It will sneak around,” Mr. White said.
    The board will give the the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation more time to submit its commentary on the application, and will attempt to sort out any controversy with the trustees over jurisdiction before making a decision.
    “I think the applicant deserves an answer, sooner than later,” said Mr. Walters. “I’m not a meteorologist, but we’re lucky.”