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About That Eroding Bluff

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 23:05
A lawn practically drips off an eroding precipice at Culloden Point in the photo above. Erosion is intensifying there; the shoreline to the east is almost completely hardened by structures.
Billy Mack

An eroding bluff doesn’t respect zoning distinctions. That was the message delivered to the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday by Alice Cooley, a lawyer representing property owners on Soundview Drive in Montauk. Her clients, Sarah and Maurice Iudicone, are forbidden under zoning rules from building any sort of hardened coastal structure, such as a stone revetment or bulkhead, to protect their property.

Two coastal erosion overlay zones abut each other at the tip of Culloden Point, where Soundview Drive intersects Captain Kidd’s Path. The zones were adopted in 2007 as part of the town’s local waterfront revitalization program. The zone along Captain Kidd’s Path is known as coastal erosion overlay zone four, and revetments and bulkheads are permitted.

Ms. Cooley said that of the 36 properties in the zone, 32 have hardened shoreline structures, resulting in over 1,300 feet of armored shoreline between the Iudicones’ property and the mouth of Lake Montauk to the east.

The Iudicones and the owners of three other properties at the tip of Culloden Point want their properties to be added to that zoning district. They’re now in coastal erosion overlay zone two. The four lots are the last private land before the public land at Culloden Point.

“We all know that has an impact,” Ms. Cooley said of the hardened shoreline. Interestingly, another partner in her firm, Brian Matthews, has been arguing the opposite in front of the town’s zoning board of appeals recently. He told that board a proposed revetment for 117 Bayview Avenue on Napeague, also in coastal erosion overlay zone two, would have little impact on a wetland immediately to the west.

“Our client’s inability to avail themselves of the same protections afforded to their immediate neighbors, with no scientific basis for such disparate treatment, has put their property at immediate risk,” Ms. Cooley said. She told the board the Iudicones lost 30 feet of their property over the winter.

“Nature abhors right angles,” said Aram Terchunian, the owner of First Coastal, a company that installs coastal erosion structures. “Especially on the coast. It really wants to smooth things out. The problem here is that we have a lot of right angles.”

He showed a photo of a bulkheaded property on Captain Kidd’s Path. Next to it, the bluff in front of 180 Soundview Drive had been eroded. The backyard was fully sodded to the precipice. He said the stabilization of the shoreline to the east of the Iudicones’ property had been hardened in an incoherent way, thus creating the problem. Because of all the armoring, no sediment moves west from the mouth of Lake Montauk toward the tip of Culloden Point.

Mr. Terchunian felt strongly that the four properties should share the same zoning distinctions as those along Captain Kidd’s Path, but acknowledged that “even if the board grants our request, we still have a significant engineering challenge ahead of us.”

Both Ms. Cooley and Mr. Terchunian contended that the zoning map drew a line at a man-made distinction, the end of Captain Kidd’s Path, when instead it should have used a natural feature, Culloden Point, as its terminus.

Another map presented by Mr. Terchunian showed that the point had lost 150 feet of beach in just over 20 years. “What we don’t want to see happen is one of the houses fall in. I believe there is a strong technical case to respect the natural boundary.”

Supervisor Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said the request would be sent to the waterfront advisory committee and Brian Frank, the chief environmental analyst in the Planning Department, and that the town board would schedule a discussion of it soon.

“I’m sympathetic to the homeowners,” Councilman Ian Calder-Piedmonte said. “But hard structures are difficult. Once you start with them, where do you draw the line? Clearly there is an issue, but we need to exercise caution with a zoning change.”

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