Two pending lawsuits have Southampton Town’s attorney department asking to amend town code from the 1970s.
Assistant Town Attorney Katie Garvin is proposing an amendment to clarify the town’s policy to exempt from regulation any retaining walls that are required for use as part of sanitary waste disposal systems approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. But the issue many residents and Chief Building Inspector Michael Bonacasa raise is that some of the walls are too high, going way above minimum requirements; in some cases, to level out a yard or increase property height.
“The walls are engineered by private companies and brought to the health department for their approval, and my question to the health department was, if an engineer designs a wall that’s six or seven feet above groundwater, which makes the retaining wall much, much higher, would it be approved? In their eyes, it’s a good thing,” Bonacasa said. “Suffolk County requires separation between two to three feet depending on the size of the system between a leeching field and groundwater, and I believe the wall should be the minimum height required to get an approved system in.”
His proposal was to amend the code to include a minimum height for which that and anything above in a blueprint of plans would be checked by the building department. He asked that the code be changed to the following: “Retaining walls will be the minimum height required to use as an integral part of sanitary waste disposal systems and approved for construction by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Any such height greater than three feet shall be reviewed by the building department for possible screening and mitigation.”
This was something community members could get behind, including J.J. Sacca, president of the Cold Spring Pond Home Owner’s Association, whose beachfront community is at the center of the pending litigation.
“Some are using sanitation to gain elevation,” he said. “They’re increasing property heights to give someone without a water view a view of the Peconic.”
He and others also feared flooding, because the large walls don’t allow water to recede during a storm surge.
“I understand the importance of creating distance from the septic system to the groundwater table to protect our bays and harbors, for human health, and everything. It’s necessary for water quality,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “But I can see how a six-foot retaining wall is an issue, especially if it’s on the property line clipping roots of vegetation. It’s unsightly, you can fall and get hurt, wildlife has issues jumping over it, drainage becomes an issue, storm surges, so we’re solving one problem and potentially creating another.”
Councilpersons Tommy John Schiavoni and Christine Preston Scalera were also concerned with relinquishing zoning powers to Suffolk County. Because retaining walls, which fall under fencing regulations, are only monitored by the town when being built around a pool or tennis court, the code will need to be altered to include septic systems regardless. The question remains if and by what regulation standards. Councilman John Bouvier will be contacting Suffolk County Department of Health Services to see if there is an average preferred height to base a code change off and revisit the issue at the March 12 town board meeting.