The right of landowners to take radical action to protect their property versus the right of the community to protect itself from unintended consequences was argued at a busy East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night.
The board, which had five separate applications to consider from Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux of Mulford Lane, Amagansett, ultimately turned down their proposal for a large hard revetment on the Gardiner’s Bay waterfront by a vote of 4 to 1. At the same time, however, the board agreed unanimously that they could tear down their house and build a larger one on the back of their small lot, which is dotted with fresh and tidal wetlands. Don Cirillo, the board’s vice chairman, was the lone dissenter on the revetment vote.
The existing house now sits on the beach, the front deck supported by stilts as the result of repeated, serious erosion. What used to be the parking lot at the end of Mulford Lane, used by nearby homeowners’ Napeague Bay Club, is long gone, and regular tides have moved so far inland that there is an abandoned house on stilts standing out in the water.
Mr. Young and Ms. Lemeiux, who purchased the property in 2010, initially wanted to build a revetment in cooperation with the adjacent landowner to the east, Kevin Klenke. According to Laurie Wilshire of Land Planning Services, who spoke at an earlier public hearing, when Mr. Klenke pulled out the couple decided to move forward on their own, planning a 115-foot stone revetment with a 32-foot return made of vinyl.
The couple had asked the Z.B.A. for emergency approval to build the revetment back in September. At the time, the then Z.B.A. chairman, Philip Gamble, and a Planning Department environmental expert warned that allowing a new house to be built on the 87-by-110-foot lot might be tempting fate.
Mr. Cirillo argued this week that the applicants should be allowed to go forward because they were willing to take the risk and shoulder the expense.
“I see water as just a slow invader. If it were a fast invader, would we just sit back and let the water take his property?” Mr. Cirillo asked.
“Yes, he’s willing to spend his money, but what about his neighbor?” Sharon McCobb, who was among the voting majority, asked. She said the revetment could well endanger the property to the east. “I’m very uncomfortable with this,” she said. She reminded other board members that when the house was purchased, the hazards were already apparent.
Alex Walter, the Z.B.A. chairman, expressed concern about the likelihood of a precedent being set if the board allowed the revetment. The property is in a costal erosion disrtrict, where such structures are prohibited under the town’s local waterfront revitalization program.
“The neighbors on Bayview [an adjacent street] have a vested interest in this. They may want to come down here and ask for the same thing,” he said. “This would be the first in this area. There has been no granting of a hardened revetment. A reasonable person would come to the conclusion that this would be a detriment to the neighbors,” he said.
As for the new house, the board agreed to the variances necessary, which in some cases are extreme. They include permission for the setbacks from wetlands for the residence and decks to be only 10 and 15 feet, where 100 feet is required, and to be 16 and 5 feet from the dune crest, where 75 feet is required.
Without commenting on the specifics, Ms. McCobb later allowed that the board wanted to be mindful of the need for some form of relief in dire circumstances.
In other decisions, the board, unanimously in all cases, granted requests for variances from Michael Hoffman of 156 DeForest Road in Montauk to replace a large deck and small pool with a smaller deck and larger pool on the same footprint, a request from Michael Denson of 26 Oyster Shores Road on the west side of Three Mile Harbor to put in a small above-ground pool, a request from Christina Gabbard of 5 Winslow Avenue in Whalebone Woods to keep a shed that had been built without meeting required setbacks, finding that the town had caused the error, and from Michael Gianelli and Gregory Shano of 57 Miller Lane, near the village, to build a garage and sunroom, calling it in keeping with the neighborhood.