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Trustees File Suit Against ZBA Over Sea Wall Approval

Attorney says ZBA 'unduly influenced' by Superstorm Sandy.

The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals' approval of a sea wall in front of a Lazy Point house has the town trustees crying foul.

In a suit filed late last month in State Supreme Court against the appeals board and the homeowners, the East Hampton Town Trustees claim the ZBA is allowing the a coastal erosion structure to be built on publicly owned land in Amagansett.

In a 3-to-2 vote on Nov. 30, the zoning board granted variances and a Natural Resources Special Permit to Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux that allows for construction of a 147-linear foot stone armor revetment backed by a 32-foot vinyl seawall in front of 157 Mulford Ln., a property hardhit by erosion.

The ZBA's determination is illegal, according to the town trustees who assert in the suit that "a substantial portion" of the rock revetment would be built on an area past the "high water line" of Gardiner's Bay, the northern boundary of the homeowner's property.

"We don't believe the ZBA possesses the legal authority to allow any structures on someone else's land. Clearly, this is beyond the high water mark," said David Eagan, whom the trustees hired to represent them in the petition. While the trustees believe they own the land the revetment is supposed to be built on, Eagan said it is not necessary to prove ownership in this case.

The trustees also claim the ruling violates the standards for granting such a special permit for coastal erosion set forth in the East Hampton Town Zoning Code, as well as the State Environmental Quality Review Act, when the ZBA "failed to identify the relevant areas of environmental concern."

The ZBA's determination was granted, according to the suit, on its "erroneous findings that the existing residence on the Young property was in 'imminent danger,' when in fact when the ZBA had previously granted Young the necessary relief to demolish the existing residence and construct a new 1,719-square foot residence on pilings in a more landward location."

That application, approved in March 2012, including a denial to build a similar revetment. "They reapplied in June for a different revement as if they never had the prior approval," Eagan said. Under the standards for a Natural Resources Special Permit, necessary for any hard structures, applicants have to exhaust "soft alternatives, such as beach replenishment and relocation," he added.

When the homeowners came back before the ZBA, little had changed, Eagan said. A State Department of Environmental Conservation had been granted and Eagan believes the zoning board members who voted in favor were "using the DEC permit as a change in circumstance, which its not... The DEC permit did not enforce the town code standards," he said.

"It's really kind of shocking. I think the board was unduly influenced by the DEC permit and I think the board was unduly influenced by the severity of Superstorm Sandy. But, the law doesn't account for that."

There is no monetary judgement being sought in the case. Eagan said he hopes it "sends the message that everyone in town, including town government, needs to respect the town trustees' jurisdiction."

The case is on the court calendar in February.

ViralGrain January 12, 2013 at 07:07 AM
Respect the town trustees? I don't live there but know the area very well. Trustees should be respecting the fact that those people are trying to save their homes that have been getting washed away since the dredging started taking place and the construction of that jetty that the town gov. had done. Town government with its dredging projects caused this mess! That beach used to have more then a hundred yards of road, beach and several houses that the water now covers. Shame on the trustees for trying to stop people from saving their homes! Your going to wind up giving those people a hard time and open the town up for yet another costly law suit? Trusties should leave well enough alone and let them save their homes with out making the situation there any harder on them then it already is. Its not their fault the erosion is taking place like it is there. Its the town's fault for dredging for the boat ramp and building the jetty on the other end of the beach.
1/2 n 1/2, 2 sugars January 12, 2013 at 11:56 AM
CFAR!!!
ViralGrain January 12, 2013 at 04:49 PM
When they started dredging to open up the other end of where the boat ramp is, it created a underwater vortex that started sucking the sand, road and houses that were built there decades ago into the bay. It is proven that jetties promote beach erosion worse then any other hard structure. The jetty and dredging is what caused this. NOT MOTHER NATURE. I am the first one to say I have no sympathy for those who's house gets wiped out after they build on the beach or on the side of a volcano as you say. This is not the case! Those homes were there long before the dredging project and the jetty. There used to be road, and several more houses further to where the road ends now that are gone because of the accelerated erosion. I never saw beach erosion happen as quickly and consistently as it has there. These people who's houses have not been swept away yet did not just build on the water line. They didn't order the construction of the jetty down the beach from them. They didn't order the dredging to open the other end of the boat ramp. Its unfortunate they are having to pay the price and deal with such hassel that was created by someone else's doing who ever it was. I commend them on trying to save their homes. Sea walls are used all over the world and are very effective with minimal adverse impact if any. What ever the solution is something needs to be done to save these people's homes and hopefully reverse the damage that the accelerated erosion caused.
tito January 12, 2013 at 06:37 PM
the main issue here is the hard structures are ILLEGAL in east hammpton town, based on the town wide comprehensive local waterfront reviatization plan. why do we have laws if we are constently going to be going against the directions of much more informed planners than any of us on this thread. why didn't the homeowners seek other "softer" solutions. two wrongs might not make a right in this area. if we look at other situations in eh town over the years, new waterfront home owners have just bought homes and continued to sue and litigate to get their way concerning armourment of the beach; ie louse pt, gerard drive, soundview ave amoung others. while these home owners might have not built this home they did just recently buy it. another point of concern is that the publics right to traverse the beach in this area will be constently challenged by a seawall. as a resident of this town which has rules set back to 1686, i commend the trustees for holding the fortitude to make sure that the rules are followed and not bent.
ViralGrain January 12, 2013 at 08:45 PM
What would be a solution then? Those people there are going to be systematically losing their homes and more of their road if the issue isn't addressed. This rapid erosion was not caused by mother nature. I'm sure when the powers at be opened the other end of launching ramp by dredging and making a channel and built the jetty, they didn't foresee this happening. Not as much was known back then as to the cause-and-effect of beach erosion as we know now. But it is happening and people are losing their homes. I'm sure that we won't see it in our lifetime, but if it continues it it will gorge its way through to the ocean. Already in a relatively short amount of time there's been several houses lost and over a hundreds of yards of Beach and Road gone and underwater. The course of this erosion has already been set. Something needs to be done that will return the beach to its natural state that it was in prior to the project that caused this problem, while also protecting what beach, road and homes are still there. There is a fair amount of homes on that road that have been there for a very long time. Those people are citizens of our town and deserve protection. This rapid erosion was not of their doing or something they could foresee of happening. They deserves to be able to sell their home or live in their home or do what they want with their home without the threat of their home being washed away into the sea because of someone else's actions. Action needs to be taken quickly.
Montaukman January 12, 2013 at 09:12 PM
The solution is quite simple, they should have applied to build their revetment on their own property instead of someone else's.
ViralGrain January 12, 2013 at 09:45 PM
That is their own property over a hundred yards out into the bay, but this man made crisis that was not of their doing started taking place! There was a road, telephone poles and houses that are now bay. Where do you draw the line on this. Those people didn't do anything to cause this nor did mother nature. Their homes were there long before the dredging of the launching ramp area or the jetty was built. They've already lost so much property. How can you just turn your back on them in such a cold way. They built their homes far enough from the seashore to be relatively protected from mother nature. It's not their fault that projects outside of their control has caused such a devastation to the land there. They deserve to keep what property they have left and should be able to do whatever they need to do to protect them selves and the ecosystem that is left. There's got to be a successful solution here to help restore the beach to its natural state prior to the projects that took place that caused this mess while protect these people's homes and whats left. I think as a town we owe it to them. I put myself in there shoes and think to my self how would I like it if I was endanger of losing my home and all I have worked for because of what someone else did down the road from me. Would you like that? How would anyone like that? What would you do?
ViralGrain January 13, 2013 at 02:23 AM
There is a jetty between the boat ramp where the dredging has been done and the ZBA. Look at the map. On the satellite photo you can see one house totally surrounded by the water. Now if you can imagine there were at least 2 houses infront of that house along with road and a large beach that are gone. To what extent that area was dredged back in the 1800s and if that is even fact, I don't know. I do know that dredging capabilities back in the 1860s and 1880s cannot be compared to modern-day dredging. The dredging back then was more like plow just pushing the sand out-of-the-way. Modern-day dredgers create deep steep channels that create strong under water riptides that has the effect of a underwater vortex. Its been pulling the beach along with the tides out into Garders Bay, which you can also see if your exam the satellite photo. This combined with the jetty is why that specific area is being ripped apart like it is. Knowledge of jettys and dredging the the adverse consequences they create was not known really at the time like it is now. However these people shouldn't be forced to lose their home and road now that we know what the problem is. They should be granted the rite to protect what property they have left considering the the circumstances. Not only are the trying to save their property but the beach also.
ViralGrain January 13, 2013 at 02:24 AM
Is there any engineer out there who is reading this who has some sort of logical way to construct something that can be effective in bringing back the beach and protecting the homes there from the rapid erosion? https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=mulford+lane+amagansett&ie=UTF-8&ei=4RPyUMioD8iM0QGnsYC4Bw&sqi=2&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAA
tito January 13, 2013 at 03:20 AM
how about they do what every other waterfront home owner has done. but maratime sand and place it on their property. yes they will have to repeat it in due time but that is a very viable "soft" solution. also this area we are talking about is a nature ishtmus. it is acutally a glacial riverbed if you want to go back millions of years. we should all respect and plan for the forces of mother nature.
ViralGrain January 13, 2013 at 04:45 AM
Its a costly and a temporary solution. What about a sea wall or boulder wall a hundred or so yards out into the water to create a barrier to prevent sand from being pulled out? It would have to be very long. It would not be free to make. These people that live there did not bring this upon them selves. Is it fair they are having to pay for this in any way. They have been anyway. But is that fair? This is not all Mother nature's fault by any means. Mother Nature didn't construct the other jettys down the beach or dredge the channels in the areas that is causing this rapid erosion. Humans did and the people who are suffering the consequences of this are innocent and are in danger of losing their homes. Wildlife on the land there including bird nesting, fox, deer, raccoons etc. are also losing their habitat because of this. If this was all mother nature's doing I would not give a dam. (no pun intended) But this is just another example of how we as humans have fallen out of harmony with Mother Nature by messing with it, and it's leading to destruction and innocent lives are being adversely effected by it. We owe it to our selves to at least try to intelligently reverse what we as humans set in motion. This scenario is not uncommon. Coastal lines are being eroded by mother nature alone at a rapid pace. Combine that with the threat of rising sea levels. This could be something manageable in size that can be used come up with a successful solution that can be applied elsewhere.
ViralGrain January 13, 2013 at 04:53 PM
That is a jetty down the beach towards the boat ramp. EH Local- I'm not looking to argue and bicker. The people ZBA are good people who are not only trying to protect their homes and road but bring back the beach. Perverting this senario by comparing it to any where else is not fair. Montauk Point is a vital point in the middle of the ocean that Mother Nature is responsible for the erosion. The accelerated rate of erosion at the ZBA is man made. Instead of being a nay sayer why don't you try to harness that energy to try to come up with a successful solution to save those peoples homes and bring back the beach there. That is how a true E.H. local does. We help our neighbors.
jsb January 13, 2013 at 06:30 PM
So let me understand this, I really don't want to sound to simplistic, but are the Trustees essentially saying as the high water mark moves more and more upland over time that the property that is absorbed and ends up below the high water line becomes their property? With sea levels rising, with questionable dredging decisions based on little or no engineering, with boat ramp construction and repair over time that has impacted tidal patterns and speed, and with other knee jerk reactions over the years by governmental bodies that all have produced rising high water lines, landowners are expected to stand by and do nothing to save their asset? When forces - both natural and man made beyond their control - result is the erosion of their hard earned asset are you telling me that the property owner according to the Trustees have few options to save their asset? Essentially this becomes a redistribution of wealth. The private property owners loses it, and the government gets it.
ViralGrain January 13, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Is EH LOCO a more appropriate screen name for you?- What part of there were several houses with road and a large beach infront of the current house that is next in line there to get wiped out do you not understand? Those people there did not build up on the beach as you say. Also the the families that are part of ZBA are mostly locals that have been in those homes for more then a generation. They are not trying to steal anything. Quite the contrary to what you say. They are trying to protect their property and return the beach to the pristine condition that it was prior to it starting to get wiped. The reason its getting wiped out is not because of Mother Nature's doing or the residents of ZBA. They have been paying for it out of pocket without any burden to tax payers since the day the first house was ever built there. They maintain their road and its utilities with out any burden to the taxpayers. They are not rich people, but blue collar, baymen, and retirees that have been there since those homes were nothing more then fishing shacks generations ago. Some even built those homes with their own hands decades ago and they didn't build them on dunes or the water's edge. jsb your understanding is correct. Seems almost incomprehensible but thats what the law seems to imply. I agree with that law and like my rite to enjoy the beach. I suport CfAR 110%. If it was Mother Nature simply taking its toll on the land there maybe I wouldn't care as much as I do. But that not the case.
ViralGrain January 14, 2013 at 02:10 AM
Your very wrong about a few things. Every time a north easter hits the place does not wind up underwater by any means. Houses were there long before modern dredging projects took place on a continues basis. There are a bunch of retired people there who have lived there for many years prior to going into retirement. Your concern about the fact others may try to follow suit to try to build bulk heads and "hard structures" is something that concerned me also. I think that given the facts that the rapid erosion was caused by flawed engineering that happened at a time when there was not as much known as there is today as to the cause and effect of beach erosion, a safe exception can be made in this specific case. One that will leave the yahoos that built in obvious bad locations in other parts of town who are victims of Mother Nature out of it. I think the goal is, was, and should be is that not only are the people wanting and need to protect their road and structures, they want a successful solution that will return and maintain the beach back to the beauty it was. By no means do I speak on the behalf of anyone at the ZBA at all. I'm just an egg clair amongst a bunch of donuts. There must be an agreeable and effective solution that can make it possible for those people to save their homes and also add to the beach besides just dumping money and sand at the end for it to get swept away.
David January 25, 2013 at 01:37 PM
I have spent long hours this past year, working on a an in depth audio - vidio presention as it relates to both of your very valid views. I hope to have this FACTUAL presentation ready for a public presentation by September. I agree, It is a very conequential issue. But, please, let us all be factually informed before we make the decisions which hopefully will mitigate the problem. David
David January 25, 2013 at 01:49 PM
VERY VERY VALID POINT. But not a conclusion with a solution ?

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