Doc Shows Impact Of Coastline Development

Thomas Bena’s award-winning documentary film One Big Home — showing how, mostly in coastal communities, homeowners and builders try to bypass laws that limit house size — is coming to the East End on July 11 and 12.

There will be two showings on July 11; one at the Montauk Public Library at 7 PM and one at the Cutchogue Library at 6 PM. The film will also be shown at the Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport on July 12 at 6 PM. Bena will be in attendance for the Montauk and Greenport showings and there will be a discussion of the film after its viewing.

Bena’s film, released back in 2016, is primarily set in Martha’s Vineyard, but Bena’s research is more than applicable to Long Island. His documentary covers multiple topics, including zoning, the rapid development of coastlines across the United States, and the environmental impacts these developments have on the area. Almost all of Bena’s research, however, is presented in the first person, as he relates his findings to his own experiences as a carpenter.

The filmmaker lived the majority of his life in a small house in Martha’s Vineyard that was passed down to him and had remained in his family for generations. When his family started growing, the tough decision was made to buy a much larger home.

Bena’s adamant support for smaller and more ecological homes stems from the rapid development of Martha’s Vineyard. When he began carpentry work on some larger-than-life homes, he got his camera and set out to find where this would lead. Massive summer homes were being constructed at an astonishing rate and very little of the island’s coastline had been left untouched.

Even the homes that are not in use full time require heating year-round and have significant energy and environmental impacts, he said. The only reason why these developments have decreased is because of new zoning and building regulations that he and his associates promoted, he said.

There is not a single major coastal area in the United States that has not seen major developments in recent decades, said Bena. He encourages residents of these areas to push for stricter zoning and building laws that will help to keep the environment protected.

“This is not a coastline issue anymore,” Bena said, pointing out that this is now a national debate. “Look around at the place you’re building on and ask yourself the question, ‘Does my home make sense here? Does it respect the local community or does it fly in the face of locals’ sense of place?’”

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