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Revetment Application Is Making Waves

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 12:30
At present, a nine-foot wall of geocubes, seen here in a photo from public hearing documents, protects an existing house, but it also prevents beach access for neighbors.

A rocky revetment, rocky relationships, and even conspiracy theories were on display at the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on April 2, during a public hearing involving a proposed 108-foot-long, 10-foot-high revetment at the end of Bay View Avenue on Napeague. The structure, meant to deflect waves, was instead creating them.

At present, a nine-foot wall of geocubes, which have long overstayed their welcome, protects an existing house, but it also prevents beach access for neighbors. Many were at the meeting with a simple request: Lose the geocubes.

The revetment, however, was only one part of an application to tear down the house and replace it with a new, slightly larger one. Brian Matthews, attorney for the applicant, Nicholas Grecco of 117 Bay View, maintained that the State Environmental Quality Review Act was not being followed in that instance, and that his client wasn’t being treated fairly:

“The board made its first SEQRA determination three years after the application was filed. The law requires it to be made as early as possible.”

Mr. Grecco’s experts, who, said Mr. Matthews, all agreed that the new house would be in “chronic danger” without the proposed rock revetment, were being ignored, he said. He also accused the Town Planning Department of suppressing a report made by an expert hired by the Z.B.A. itself, one Dr. Henry Bokuniewicz, because it didn’t fit into their narrative.

“The record of this application is being manipulated,” Mr. Matthews said, in order to impose a lengthy environmental review. “It’s all part of a calculated effort to delay and deny this application, notwithstanding its need, notwithstanding its urgency, and notwithstanding the fact that every expert who submitted a report here has found no environmental impact.”

“How can something that does not exist [the proposed new house] be in imminent danger of wave attack?” asked Jeremy Samuelson, director of the Planning Department. “This entire application is a farce. There is no conspiracy here, there is only code.”

To support the Planning Department’s contention that there would be a significant environmental impact if the revetment plan were carried out, Brian Frank, the chief environmental analyst for the town, discussed the environmental assessment forms with the Z.B.A. Mr. Matthews asserted that the forms were unchanged from others completed in November, without acknowledgement of Dr. Bokuniewicz’s report. The report, he said, refuted the Planning Department’s findings.

“At this point, we question whether or not the board can rely on a single statement or conclusion that the Planning Department has advanced. Particularly given that the department has effectively censored and silenced the expert that was retained by this board.”

Mr. Frank replied that the Bokuniewicz report was incomplete. “Taking an incomplete draft and submitting it to the file and then coloring it with your own interpretations is a disservice to Dr. Bokuniewicz and this board,” he said, adding that Dr. Bokuniewicz was never formally retained. Indeed, Roy Dalene, chairman of the Z.B.A., said he had not seen the report.

Jameson McWilliams, deputy town attorney, when asked about Dr. Bokuniewicz’s contract, had no comment when reached by phone Tuesday. Nor did Dr. Bokuniewicz return a request for comment.

Mr. Frank told the Z.B.A. that Mr. Grecco’s house was in a coastal erosion overlay zone, “which are predominately free of coastal erosion control structures.” Mr. Matthews had asserted that the Z.B.A. had indeed granted such structures in the past, but Mr. Frank said none had been evaluated for compliance with special permit standards.

He said concerns had been raised about Mr. Grecco’s application early. “To suggest this is different or an outlier is demonstrably false, and it’s important to recognize that.” Pointing out that the Planning Department works only in an advisory capacity to the Z.B.A., he told its members, “I expect you to take the Planning Department’s recommendations as considerations. I don’t expect you to sit up there like five bobbleheads and nod at everything I say.”

Going through the environmental assessment form, which characterizes the environmental impacts of a project, Mr. Frank told the board that in five of 11 areas, the Planning Department had identified potentially moderate to large adverse environmental impacts. “They’ve attacked me, they’ve called it unprofessional” but, he said, Mr. Matthews’s team just hadn’t done enough to answer obvious questions about the impact of the project.

He reminded the board that while the revetment dominated discussion, the other half of the proposal was for the construction of a new house. “How is it that a house that would be in imminent peril without an erosion control structure that requires numerically substantial variances from all of the town wetlands setbacks is an appropriate candidate for an increase in gross floor area over the house that’s there right now?” he asked.

“This application is prohibited by the code. Full stop,” said Mr. Samuelson. “Does the Planning Department have a response to these wild-eyed accusations? Yes. It’s what every good attorney learns their first week of law school. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. If neither one is on your side, pound the table.”

“In this case the applicant is attempting to lump on the Planning Department because the facts are not on their side and the law is not on their side. That applies to the law of physics, and to the law of East Hampton Town.”

“The director made a blanket statement,” Mr. Matthews retorted. “Sometimes playing amateur lawyer is not the best way to go. I’m certain the town’s planning director didn’t mean to say the variance standards are not available to the applicant. I’m certain that was an oversight.”

The application was to be discussed again this past Tuesday but was removed from the agenda after Mr. Matthews requested an adjournment.

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