Seek Revetment on Springs Bluffs

Planning Department is opposed, but another project may have set precedent
An eroding shoreline has four property owners asking the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals for the right to extend an existing revetment 560 feet south to protect their Louse Point Road houses. T.E. McMorrow

For the second time in the last few weeks, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has had an application before it for a massive rock revetment, but unlike the first application, which was to armor a bluff facing the Atlantic Ocean, the proposal heard Tuesday night was for a revetment on Gardiner’s Bay toward the end of Louse Point.

The proposed 560-foot-long revetment would have two-ton stones buried in the sand as toeholds, with similarly sized stones sloping toward the bluffs and connecting with four contiguous properties at 74, 76, 84, and 86 Louse Point Road. Three of the four property owners were present at the hearing, as was an attorney, Charles Voorhis of Nelson, Pope, and Voorhis, who made a presentation on their behalf. 

The town’s Planning Department is adamantly against the proposal. Brian Frank, its chief environmentalist, warn­ed in a draft environmental assessment, as he has before, of negative consequences caused by such structures on the shoreline.

The town code bans “the installation of new coastal structures” in the area. However, a revetment was approved for properties to the north in 2009. The area is “generally protected from strong wave action by a well-developed sandy beach,” Mr. Frank said, as well as by shallow waters immediately offshore and by Cartwright Shoals, which are not far away. While Mr. Frank said the erosion had come from Hurricane Sandy, the applicants disagreed. Mr. Voorhis said that besides Sandy storms in 2007 and 2010 had done extensive damage.

Mr. Frank pointed out that the properties had been extensively cleared, and that one of them, owned by Lou Clemente at 78 Louse Point Road, was sloped down toward the bluffs, which may have caused additional erosion.

Mr. Voorhis disputed Mr. Frank’s allegation that the owners had not attempted a soft solution, saying they had brought in sand and planted it, but that it was all washed out in a storm. He also said 76 percent of the properties along Louse Point Road are already protected in some manner from wave action.

Robin Wilder, who owns the farthest north of the four properties, also owns an abutting lot to the north that is among the properties already protected by a revetment. She would like the new revetment to connect to one built in 2009.

Cate Rogers, the only member who was on the board in 2009, said the board had left a portion of the bluff unprotected intentionally, believing that any scouring as a result of that revetment would affect only Ms. Wilder’s property. Ms. Wilder expressed unhappiness over that decision, noting that her stairs to the beach had collapsed after Hurricane Sandy.

“It was an historic hearing,” Ms. Rogers said. “It was the first time the Z.B.A. and the trustees [East Hampton Town Trustees] ever held a joint hearing.”

The day before the hearing, Tom Lynch, the owner of 84 Louse Point Road, met this reporter on the beach in front of his house just after rowing in from Gardiner’s Bay on a paddle board. He said his grandfather had built the house.

“When I was a kid, you could walk down to Barnes Landing. It was a wide beach.” But over the years, he said, the sand on the beach had disappeared. “We’re stuck between a rock and a hard wooden place,” he said. The rock he was referring to is the existing revetment protecting properties to the north, the wooden hard place the many groins and bulkheads built along the beach to the south. He believes these structures have made the properties whose owners are now seeking a revetment vulnerable to erosion from tidal action, particularly during storms.

Mr. Frank said Mr. Lynch’s property was the most vulnerable of the applicants’. “However,” he wrote, “the erosion control structure is not immediately necessary to prevent the loss or destruction of the principal structure on the property,” that is, Mr. Lynch’s house. The fourth property owner seeking a revetment is John Mullen.    

David Lys, a board member, explored the question of shorefront property boundaries, since the trustees own land below the high water mark. It was one of many areas of uncertainty delved into by the board. At the end of the over three-and-a-half-hour hearing, the board agreed to keep the record open for an indeterminate period of time to allow the applicants to respond to Mr. Frank’s environmental assessment, after which Mr. Frank will be allowed to respond.