Going, Going, Gone

There is a rather extraordinary application before the zoning board in East Hampton at this time. It is from a couple that owns a home at 157 Mulford Lane at Cherry Point in Napeague. Mulford Lane dead-ends at the bay beach by their house. What they want to do is build a stone revetment in front of and wrapping around their home so the high tide from Gardiner’s Bay doesn’t inundate their property. They also want to tear down their current small house—about 1,200 square feet—and build a larger house, 1,800 square feet, 50 feet farther back from where the current house is now. [expand]

The extraordinary thing about this is that 157 Mulford Lane is not supposed to be waterfront. As you face the Bay, there is a road called Leisure Drive that runs parallel to the water in front of their property. Then after you cross Leisure Drive, there are two other properties closer to the water that were built waterfront on Gardiner’s Bay, 159 Mulford Lane and 163 Mulford Lane. All of the above—Leisure Drive and the two other addresses—are underwater. Nothing is habitable. The house at 159 was torn down 10 years ago. The house at 163 sits on stilts, abandoned, just offshore. Gardiner’s Bay now laps in front of 157 Mulford Lane.

The application for 157 Mulford Lane was supposed to come up before the board two weeks ago Tuesday—two days after Hurricane Irene came through. There was a meeting held—the Town Government came to work anyway—and the matter came up, but the Board voted to postpone. A representative for the owners, Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux, spoke before the vote.

“Hurricane Irene spared the house, but winter has the opposite effect,” said Laurie Wiltshire of Land Services. “We need emergency assistance and expedited permits. Otherwise, the house is not likely to survive the winter.”

Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux bought the house in 2010. They’re prepared to spend big bucks. They have high hopes. There’s nothing like living right on the Bay. And they are determined to do that. It may be true that Cherry Point has eroded more than 100 feet in the last 50 years, but their application, which could result in their new home set back that 50 feet from the old and sitting at an elevation 12 feet up with the stone revetment at 8.5 feet wrapping around, will give them many happy years there. If only the Town will give its approval.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Mulford Lane, which is part of Lazy Point on Gardiner’s Bay in Napeague. Lazy Point consists of about 100 tiny beach bungalows, all built by avid fishermen—before zoning—in the first half of the 20th century. You’d come out on the railroad, go to your bungalow, go fishing on the beach. Many of the bungalows are little more than shacks, some just 800 square feet in size. You couldn’t get a permit to build something that small today. But they do have their charm. And they can and have, since they predate zoning, been rebuilt as needed.

It seems very hard to say no to this applicant though. They have this house in imminent danger. They are willing to spend all this money to save it. In another year or two, the current house there will be in the water.

Yet it is true they just bought it last year, probably to make this effort. And it is also true that to do this would require a series of variances that would just about turn the whole codebook and the public access to walk along the beautiful sandy beach there upside down. The property is in a wetlands zone. It is in a flood zone. You’re not supposed to put stone revetments in front of your house. Also, the Trustees would have to agree to make part of what is a beautiful beach with public walking access, now inaccessible to the townspeople, where the revetment would be, something they have never agreed to do since 1686 when their protections were offered to the townspeople for the right to walk the beachfront.

People say a dredging of Napeague Harbor five years ago greatly accelerated the erosion to the west, which includes Cherry Point. Aerial photos of the shoreline show one foot of erosion a year between 1950 and 1999, five feet a year between 2000 and 2005 and then 10 feet per year between 2006 and the present. Government did the dredging. Government should not block people from fortifying their homes since they caused the problem.

There’s another matter: 157 Mulford Lane is actually a lambchop shaped parcel. Between it and Mulford Lane, east of 157, is another old fishing shack, about 1,000 square feet in size, owned by Kevin Klenke. Only 50 feet separates his house from the current house at 157. And if this application is approved and the stone revetment wraps around, Klenke’s property would be left to the future fates of the erosion.

Of course, the people at 157 can’t apply for anything next door. They can only apply for themselves. Klenke has just come back from being away for a few months. He’s taking stock of the situation, and he’s written a letter asking for a delay so he can take it all in.

Meanwhile, the fish swim, the birds swoop and the bugs flit around in their wetlands. It didn’t use to be like this, the creatures say to one another. We used to all get along. Now the humans are messing with everything.

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