East Deck Dune a ‘Model Project’

Zoning board has high hopes for ‘soft solution’ at former Ditch Plain motel
Richard A. Hammer, left, an attorney for the new owners of the East Deck motel property, held a bag of sand he said was similar to what will be used for a dune or berm on the ocean-facing side of the property. With him was Billy Mack of the First Coastal Corporation, which will be doing the work. T.E. McMorrow

       Dump trucks hauling about 600 cubic yards of sand a day may soon be rumbling through Montauk’s otherwise sleepy off-season streets bound for the former East Deck Motel in Ditch Plain, where new owners plan to build a sand dune up to 20 feet high.

       Constructed entirely of sand and held in place by local species of beach grass and other native flora, the project is “a model that could be used elsewhere in the town,” David Lys, a member of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, said Tuesday.

       Normally such a proposal, involving what zoning board members termed a “soft solution” when they first discussed it on Feb. 4, would not be subjected to a public hearing in order to get the needed special permit from the board. But both the town Planning Department and the board members, led by the chairman, Alex Walter, believed that, due to the scale of the project, the public should be given an opportunity to voice concerns.

       The motel, which faces one of the most popular surfing beaches on the East Coast, was bought last year by ED40 L.L.C., an ownership group represented at the Feb. 4 hearing by Richard A. Hammer, an attorney, and Billy Mack of the First Coastal Corporation, a firm that specializes in restoring and augmenting vulnerable beachfront. Mr. Mack brought to the podium a large, clear plastic bag filled with what he said was sand comparable in granular size and color to what would be piled on the beach.

       In a memo to the Z.B.A., Tyler Borsack, an environmental technician with the Planning Department, described the area as having “high erosion rates,” and said that some of the sand placed in front of the property would eventually migrate to the popular Ditch Plain beach just to west of the old motel.

       “Some of the sand will be coming from Mecox. We are we are seeking other sources,” Mr. Mack told the board on Feb. 4. The sand placement could be accomplished in 10 business days, he said. Mr. Hammer reminded the board that time was of the essence, in order to avoid any overlap with the extended summer season.

       Roger Boyle, a neighbor, said at the Feb. 4 hearing that while he is supportive of the plan, he is concerned about the condition of Ditch Plain and Deforest Roads, the route the trucks will have to take to get to the work site. “The south side of the road is already crumbly. This is not a highway road. This road is going to be trashed, or at least badly damaged. My concern is: Is there going to be remediation?”

       Another neighbor, Christopher Poli, also voiced support for the plan, but asked that the board ensure that the staging area, that is, the place where the sand is first dumped before being placed on the beach, be kept on the old East Deck property itself and not on the adjacent public parking lots to the east and west. Mr. Walter said that the board had also received emails to that effect.

       Mr. Hammer promised that the owners will work with the town’s Highway Department to make sure that the project goes smoothly. While some have speculated that Michael Repole, the founder of Vitaminwater, is among the owners, Mr. Hammer said Monday that he is not, and declined to identify anyone in the ownership group.

       During a work session on Tuesday, the board discussed the project and the comments at the hearing. “I like the design of the berm,” Mr. Lys said, adding later that there should never be any solid structure built on the new dune, and that a proposed walkway should be only a sand path. The board agreed on both points.

       “The devil will be in the details,” Don Cirillo said, as the board began to discuss exactly how they would require the operation to proceed.

       All the sand must be dumped and worked on the property itself, as opposed to using neighboring public land and parking lots, Mr. Walter said, and the total amount of sand should be limited to 6,000 cubic yards. And, he said, the sand placement should be completed by March 21.

       Bryan Gosman, a Montauk native, brought up the quality of the sand, recalling last year’s beach restoration project at Ditch Plain. The sand placed on the beach, he said, “was awful, dirt and dust.”

       Mr. Walter said that Kim Shaw, the town’s director of natural resources, has promised to have someone from her department on hand several days a week to monitor sand quality. He suggested giving the owners an extra week to bring sand in, in case weather causes a delay. They will be allowed to truck sand in only on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

       Because the board does not have a meeting next week, members will have to meet at the Z.B.A. office this week to sign off on the approval its attorney, Elizabeth Baldwin, is about to write.

       If all goes as planned, First Coastal can begin hauling in the sand on March 3, after the town Highway Department inspects Ditch Plain and Deforest Roads. When the sand-moving operation is complete, the Highway Department will re-inspect the roads for damage caused by the large trucks, which the East Deck’s owners will be required to repair.

       The owners will then have another month to complete the planting of the new dune.