Mr. Baron’s Very Bad Week

Ronald S. Baron, the billionaire founder of Baron Capital who owns a string of beachfront properties on Further Lane that straddle the boundary between East Hampton Town and the Village, had two bad days in a row last week. 

On March 20, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals rejected his application to build a walkway to the ocean beach over and through the fragile double dunes. The wooden walkway was to be used jointly by the properties at 258 and 264 Further Lane. Then, the next day, the New York State Appellate Court in Brooklyn released an opinion rejecting an appeal by Mr. Baron of a prior Z.B.A. decision regarding two walls he had built through the dunes a decade ago without obtaining the required building permits. Joining the town in arguing against the appeal, which was heard by the court on Nov. 2, 2017, was a neighbor, Taya Thurman. 

In 2007, Mr. Baron bought two lots off Further Lane in East Hampton Town, containing a little over 40 acres of oceanfront land, from Adelaide de Menil and Ted Carpenter, who were then in the news for their donation of several Early American buildings that had been preserved on the property but were destined to become the new Pantigo Road offices of East Hampton Town. The land has been described as some of the most valuable in the United States. Mr. Baron also purchased from them a lot that falls within the village, paying a total of $103 million, reportedly a record price at the time. He then took the two properties in East Hampton Town jurisdiction and combined them into one lot, which he then subdivided into three buildable lots, on which law allows him to build up to seven houses, total, according to the Planning Department. Also included in that subdivision was the creation of an agriculturally reserved parcel, as well as a scenic reserve.

In 2008, Mr. Baron built a double wall — parallel walls about four feet apart — in an area of beach vegetation on the dunes, which are protected by town code, according to the findings of the court. “These walls ran from east to west along the southerly portion of the property, and extended north along the easterly portion of the property, at a total length of approximately 762 linear feet,” the new State Supreme Court decision said.

The court found that the Z.B.A. “had a rational basis, and was not arbitrary and capricious” when, in late December of 2012, it rejected Mr. Baron’s appeal, which questioned a determination by East Hampton Town’s head building inspector at the time, Tom Preiato, that the walls required a special permit before being built. “Contrary to the petitioner’s contentions, the record contains sufficient evidence to support the rationality of that determination,” the court wrote. 

At the same time, in 2012, having been told he was lacking the special permit that would have legalized the walls, Mr. Baron applied for that permit, although the walls had been built years before. The Planning Department argued against its being issued, citing town code and the rarity of the double dune ecosystem. Brian Frank, chief environmentalist for the town, told the board then, as he did again recently regarding the proposed walkway, that the double dune was one of the last of its kind, and that it contained important animal and plant species. The Z.B.A. rejected that special-permit application from Mr. Baron.

The State Supreme Court agreed that the town has the right, through its zoning code, to protect its natural resources.

The town made many of the same arguments in the matter of Mr. Baron’s proposed wooden walkway. On March 20, Roy Dalene, a member of the Z.B.A., told the rest of the board that he would recommend denial of a permit for the walkway’s construction. Although he did not mention the 2012 case, he echoed it as he cited specific laws governing the protection of the dunes and wild habitat; he also told his fellow board members that the boardwalk was not necessary, particularly as there is already a footpath from the living areas to the beach. Theresa Berger, Samuel Kramer, and John Whelan, the chairman, all agreed with Mr. Dalene’s reasoning, which will form the basis for Beth Baldwin to write an official determination that the board can sign off on. 

Michael Sendlenski, lead attorney for the town,  would not comment yesterday on what the next steps would be regarding Mr. Baron’s walls, though he did say that the town expects that the properties will be brought into compliance with town code, at some point. “The town is very happy that the court recognized the reasoning, evaluation, and analysis by the zoning board of appeals,” Mr. Sendlenski said. He complimented the board’s attorney, Ms. Baldwin, for having guided the board through the legal thicket.