Fence is Mattituck woman’s line in the sand

11/23/2010 6:44 PM |

This fence, which stretches into the water near Breakwater Beach at Mattituck Inlet, has been a thorn in some neighbors sides for years, but the owner of the property says she's within her rights.

Up until this past weekend, people walking west of Breakwater Beach at Mattituck Inlet at high tide would have come across a strange sight: a split rail fence several feet high crossing the beach and going straight down into the surf, making walking the beach impossible without hopping the fence.

Neighbors have been at odds with Soundbeach Drive resident Christine Rivera, who put the fence there. For years, they have disagreed about where her property ends. This summer, she extended the fence by 10 feet in order to make clear to anyone walking by that they were walking on land she claimed.

She makes her claim on the basis of a lawsuit she won in 2007 against the town and New York State. The ruling gave her ownership of the sand that has built up along her beach because of the jetty at Breakwater Beach. Her ownership extends as far as the mean high water mark, the average high tide line on her beach.

The problem now, she says, is that she extended the fence in August, with a permit granted by the Town Trustees. But then rough seas from Hurricane Earl washed 30 feet of sand off her beach, leaving the fence in the water during most high tides.
“We’ve had horrific high tides this fall,” she said on Monday. “A couple of weeks ago, it was up to the reeds in front of my house. But I have been adhering to my permit and I’ve lived within the spirit of the law.”

Ms. Rivera pulled the fence out over the weekend after several of her neighbors complained to the Southold Town Board and the Southold Town Trustees last week, but she said she plans to reinstall it in the spring. She said she also had her Trustee permit amended last week to allow her to install the fence on a seasonal basis.

One of her neighbors, John Cleary, had open heart surgery earlier this year, and he walks the beach to build up strength after his operation.

“I had to climb over the fence because it went into the water. I hurt my back and had to walk back up to my house backwards,” he said. “It’s just a simple thing. Can I walk on the beach? The New York State Constitution says I can walk on the beach. The fence is into the water every day that I’ve been there.”

Mr. Cleary also said he worried that if he or anyone else had a medical emergency while walking the beach, emergency responders would not be able to get over the fence.

Another of Ms. Rivera’s neighbors, Paul Calabro, was equally upset when he complained to the Southold Town Board about the fence.

“The first 34 years I lived there, that place was paradise. The last three years were hell,” he told the board last Tuesday. “As soon as they see somebody walking, they call the cops.”

“I never stopped fishermen from fishing or someone from walking on the beach,” said Ms. Rivera, adding that her beef was with people who sunbathe or spend time on her property.

“If they’re above the high tide mark, they’re trespassing regardless of where the fence ends. I would no more go and sit on their back lawn,” she said. “I don’t understand why they think they can do it.”

Mr. Cleary and several of his neighbors brought their concerns last week to the Town Trustees, who oversee beach access, but he said they were dismissed by the board.

“They told us we’re not telling the truth. They told us we were wrong. Trustee [Jim] King as much as called me a liar,” he said. “What’s the sense of trying to talk to them?”

Mr. King said Friday he believed Ms. Rivera is in compliance with her permit and blamed this fall’s weather for making it appear that her fence went beyond the normal high water mark.

“We get big tides in nor’easters and the water comes up to the fence,” he said. “People are screaming it’s out too far, but we’ve had a lot of easterly weather. We have to look at the average high tide.”

Mr. King said the Trustees are considering changing the town code to give them more leeway in determining whether fences are blocking public access to the beach, but he said he was unsure whether any changes would apply to Ms. Rivera’s fence, which might be grandfathered in because she already has a permit.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare for us. People like to walk the beach but the public domain is the high water mark seaward,” he said. “In my mind it’s a real bad neighborhood dispute. I don’t know where it’s going to go.”

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96 Comment

  • the high tide, average, is where growth and the grass begins. otherwise it would grow lower.
    common sense should prevail.

  • Everything depends on what your deed says!!!!

  • That’s neighborly.

    As for giving the Trustees more leeway, no thanks. Let’s have the same rules apply to everyone.

  • The woman is a bitch, plain and simple.

  • Sounds like a lot of jealousy and people that need to concentrate on their own lives. Ms. Rivera doesn’t seem to get credit for all of the commmunity services she has done, much with her own funds.
    These people should move their platform to a more needed stage.

  • Seems to me Ms. Rivera is well within her rights and it sounds like “sour grapes” from the peanut gallery! As far as Mr. Cleary’s story goes I think he should look in the mirror because his nose seems to be growing at an “incredible” rate. No pun intended.

  • clearly the picture shown is NOT the the normal tide and speaking about “clear,” what is Mr. Cleary doing climbing over the Rivera’s fence other than to trespass? Seems to me all Mr. Cleary had to do was walk east on the public beach to get his needed exercise. Guess he wasn’t thinking too clearly!

  • Wow… I remember the day (seeing as i spent the first 20 years of my life in southold) when you could walk any beach from a public access. So long as you stayed towards the water nobody would bother you. I understand people would like to use their investments without public bombardment, but come on… give people 2-3′ from where the water is and lets all get along..

  • If you look into the deeds of past owners, you will find that she does indeed own down to the mean high tide mark, but obviously that mark has been moved by nature & now the mean high tide mark is closer to their property. The problem comes in when you try defining what the phrase “mean high tide” is.
    I grew up on long island sound- my family is one of the original settling families in the area & I’m related to many of the other settling families on the north fork & in Mattituck specifically. I was told (by my father & grandfather both) that the “mean high tide” was the highest the tide got when there was no storm: in other words, when the moon is full. That would be up to the cliffs now that the sand has eroded so badly.

    Before the US was even an independant country, the King of England granted the right of ALL citizens to have full & unimpeded use of the beaches. This includes sunning, swimming, etc. If the people are above the mean high mark, then the Riveras are correct in asking them to move: if they are below the line, then they have no right to say anything, as long as the people are not bothering anything (Example- excessive noise, leaving garbage, etc.)

    Beach lover- what if you started walking on the beach & were told that you could NOT walk off the town beach property because some greedy, controlling ‘person’ didn’t want you on “THEIR” property? How would you like that? Because that’s where this is all leading to. Guess YOU weren’t thinking too clearly!

    If you buy beachfront property, you are aware that you can have papers drawn up to say that you “own” the beach as well, aren’t you? That doesn’t mean that you have changed the ownership- just means that you paid to have that paper drawn up. The ORIGINAL DEEDS (previous owners) is what should prevail, & probably would have had the town’s lawyers referanced them & presented them to the state courts.

    Life was SO much nicer before the non-locals came out & started making up their own rules.

  • See my reply above-

  • This is a sad day. Fences should not be allowed on beaches.

  • If the fence is below the high tide mark then it is like any other piece of driftwood and can be salvaged for the fireplace!

  • And another thing- The fence will be “grandfathered in”? The permit should never have been given to her in the first place! (IMHO) Ask anyone on the beach more than weekends- like a fisherman that’s always on the beach- & they’ll tell you that the sand goes in & out & the beaches of the Sound are eroding more & more with each storm. Look at some old pictures from 50+ years ago & you’ll be shocked at how much has been lost. Seems to me that Ms Rivera could put her concern & $$ to better uses- like worrying about the pollution of the Sound & what to do to help clean it up- or doesn’t she mind having EColi floating around in front of her? Not to mention all the other stuff that washes up or floats by.

  • What a sad situation is right. Since when do people own the beach or sand. When I lived there we would always walk the beach and search for shells and driftwood and really enjoyed the walk. This man that walks the beach for his heart should be able to do so without hoppin over someones stupid fence. These people that have moved into Greenport sure have taken over the town haven”t they.I can’t believe all the changes that have happened to our nice town in the years. Some of theses people need to go back to the big cities and leave the nice towns alone for the people to enjoy for their time.
    50’s Girl

  • This has been a problem in Riverhead Town as well, and probably in other beachfront communities.

    The problem is particularly complex at Mattituck, because of the inlet jetties. The littoral drift of sand along the Sound shore is from west to east. The breakwater jetties cause accretion (buildup) on the beach to the west, and scours out the beach to the east. That’s why neighbors on either side fight for shortening of the jetties, or to keep them as they are, as has happened at Goldsmith’s Inlet.

    Nobody wants unwanted visitors lounging in their front yard, but nobody wants homeowners blocking legal access to the beach below the mean high water mark.

    Landowners on the west side have seen their property expanded. If the mean high water mark changes, their property shrinks. In that case, their fences should be shortened.

    “Hardening” of the shoreline through bulkheading, groins and jetties, boulder walls, etc. seriously decrease the natural transport of sand along the shoreline, exacerbating problems, as seen in the notorious Westhampton Beach groin controversy, where many houses were lost to the ocean as a result of blocked sand transport scouring out beaches downstream of a jetty field. (The sand on the South shore moves from east to west.)

    Many erosion studies have focused on the South shore, but relatively few on the Sound shore.

    Take a look at “Mattituck Inlet,NY” on Google Earth, and the buildup and scouring of sand on respective sides of the jetties is obvious.

  • So, after the storms, who determines where the mean high water mark is now?

  • Seems that there is a small click that have nothing better to do then to try to harass people…Property rights must be respected… Are these complainers American? ….. If THEIR property rights were questioned they would really have something to complain about. They should concentrate on important issues in the community. Mrs. Rivera has unselfishly done more for this community then these goons can every take credit for.

  • Local Since Birth, You are so misinformed… come into the 21 century. NYS courts once again upheld the rights of waterfront property ownership to the mean high tide. The captioned picture was obviously taken during a storm. Shows how desperate people are to spin an issue.

  • Beachlover is right- there is so much beach to the east of Rivera, there should never be an excuse not to be able to get your exercise. The only time you need to traverse the Rivera’s fence is on a storm tide or extreme high tide. A majority of the time there is no issue walking the beach. The man who hurt his back climbing the fence rather than turning around and walking the expanse of beach to the east is clearly not thinking straight or is lying. Risking personal injury in an effort to make a point when there so much beach to the east is just plain stupid. This is nothing more than a neighborhood dispute. I hope the neighbors sue so a judge can put an end to it once and for all.

  • this rude, selfish, ignorant woman comes into Mattituck with all her big money, and tries to take over the beach. Ive lived down that way my entire life – there used to be a cute little house right there, …that was picked up and moved up the road, and that monstrosity was built in place. Nice how it blocks the beautiful view of the beach coming down the hill, huh? It looks like a B&B. She built up the other walkway entrance/exit to the dead end, with sand and bushes, so the path that had been there all my life and for years before me, is no longer there. She must have Southold PD on speed dial, because i can count on 2 hands and 2 feet the amout of people who i know from town that have had issues with her… her harrassing people, who do no more that walk down to enjoy the beach. Police, instead of being available to tend to accidents, emergencies, calls, ect… have to waste time to put up with this womans imature bs. I dunno how many times ive seen a police car in her driveway. I didnt realize she was God, just because she could afford an expensive home on our lovely beach, in our lovely community. its a beach. if i wanna walk the shoreline in front of ur house, u shouldnt say boo to me lady. grow up. Between the piping plovers and this woman… its becoming quite depressing down at breakwater 2. i pray that karma is real.

  • Sad, sad, sad. What does the future hold? Maybe fences down to the mean high tide mark as far as the eye can see. Everyone who is not as fortunate as Ms. Rivera will be left with a small dead end beach to walk around in a circle at. Make the right move now and a bigger problem down the road will be avoided. Fences are for animals!!!! Not loving human beings.

  • The ignorance of those who think they are entitled to someones back yard! For those who have nothing to do, please count the waves on a stormy day.

    Don’t interfere with something that ain’t bothering you none
    ~ Old Wild west Talk

  • when someone else pays my property taxes i will be more than happy to let them climb my fence and trespass to get their much needed exercise,but until then mr. cleary and mr. calabro et. al. should respect people’s property rights.what makes people think that beachfront property is public and not private and that they have the right to trespass? these people should spend their time and energies doing something meaningful for the community .

  • Did anyone get a photo of Mr. Clary walking ‘backwards’ up the hill to his house? I am trying to imagine how walking backwards up a hill is therapeutic.

  • it’s a shame that the rich think they own the beach

  • the town has got to be kidding me by issuing the woman a permit to do such a thing. You own up to the mean high water mark lady!!! You’re impeding fisherman and beach walkers with your piece of crap fence. elitist suck!!!

  • Tis is a great woman, she has transformed this sleepy village into a thriving Astoria-like neighborhood! No more nusance side yards, no more stupid little houses on oversized lots, build it big and block that sea air! no one wants the hot sun peeping into their windows, sunsets? seen one you’ve seen them all. Look she is very popular with the Town Hall, all those big houses she builds bring in big tax bucks, as far as her own big house well she needs it as she runs her General Contracting business out of it! Her husband is constantly getting harassed by the beach people and he has to call the Police! He spends hours out on that big deck receiving dirty looks from little kids and such that he has no recourse. Yes leave her alone, lets build up and oversize every house on that strip!

  • Wow I must have missed all that community service, are you talking about improving every new house by overdeveloping the neighborhood? Or is it her taking Lemonaid down to the little kids on her beach?

  • How about a big brick wall? This way all the people from Astoria will have something to write grafetti on (Town Beach side only, not allowed on her side)

  • She does mush for this community, early this spring the Town of Southold put a UGLY sign on her fence, it must have been ordered by someone who hates her as it was 6″X6″ inches and had ugly color writing, it said “PEOPLE ARE ALLOWED TO USE BEACH UP TO HIGH TIDE MARK”, it was real small ugly letters and you had to squint to read it, well her gardeners took off that ugly sign, Thank God that’s unselfish community action! Yeah for her!

  • Mr. Cleary could just crawl under the fence, maybe Tina could put a rope on his wrist and drag him under the fence (Mr. Tina couldn’t because he’s a little wimp)

  • Zig Heil – Zig Heil

  • Really? I say if the high water mark has changed, so does her property line. I ain’t no newcomer here!

  • Not jealous, live right here too. just wanta share the walkway on the beach.

  • Wrong! most of the beach is west of this atrocity! Vast open beaches all the way to Riverhead and beyond!

  • Not so small and living in the shadow of a monstrosity!

  • Ok, then we are ok, there is lots of sand way down past her fence. I say everyone go walk there! Don’t linger, but you have the right to walk by. My friend was harassed for wading in the water there!

  • meant to say the beach growth,not her fence… there is room from there to the water

  • Seems like the green monster is out. This is not about a fence…this is a revenge and a lot of jealousy. Grow up, get a life. If you don’t like “Astoria” people, MOVE. I bet they were here before you..kept this “sleepy town” beautiful with character..perhaps you should hibernate until it’s time to harrass Mr. & Mrs. Rivera next summer.

  • Who do you think contacted and arranged for the water pressure to be improved In Captain Kidd Estates? Who paid and supplied the materials to renovate the bathrooms at the public beach? It wasn’t Santa. You are ignorant.

  • I bet your from Astoria, can you do grafetti spraying?

  • Gee, I thought it was Suffolk County Water and the Mattituck Park District, I didn’t know Tina runs them, boy you are one smart person, my bad.

  • Place your bet. I bet you are an ignorant bigot.

  • Interesting how some try to abuse state regulations for their private enjoyment.

    The Illegal fence was erected with the permission of the town trustees on charted wet lands in violation of DEC regulations.

    Trustees cited judges decision that millions of dollars in state property was acquired by the owners of beach front homes.The trustees were listed as defendants in the original court action and never bothered to show up.

    The only reason the beach was filled in was because of the Mattituck jetty causing avulsion by redirecting Long Island Sound currents not minimal natural accretion. US Supreme Court has ruled against property owners trying to claim such lands that avulsed from Federal projects at no cost to the private property owners

    Beach front owners then submitted a survey that they paid for purporting to be in compliance with judges order but was simply a map of a current high tide mark. Not the mean high tide that was stipulated which requires a 19 year study

    Further, the survey shows that some of the claimed land was below the high tide mark and extended the private boundary in an easterly direction into town beachfront.

    Private property and the owners do have a right. Similarly beach goers have rights to the beach below the high water datum.

    Public Trust
    The Public Trust Doctrine refers to the public’s interest in as well as limitations placed
    upon the sovereign’s use of and control over waterways, submerged lands and the foreshore (that
    is, the area between high and low tides). The underpinnings of the doctrine have been dated back
    to at least the time of emperor Justinian who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from 527 to 565
    A.D.1 The Justinian Institutes declared that by the law of nature, three things are common to
    mankind: the air, the running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.

  • This never was a case of property rights. It is a case of walking on the beach below the mean high water mark. PERIOD.
    But since you brought it up the fence was installed illegally and Rivera was orederd to take it down.
    The survey claiming to be a authorized by a court decision was no such thing. It was merely a survey paid for by Rivera which shows the high tide of the day. It was presented to the town as a survey of the mean high water mark which it was not. Rivera further manipulated Judge Elizabeth Hazlitt Emerson’s ruling by extending her beach front boundry in an easterly direction over town land.
    Since all the property in question is still owned by the State of New York by LAW!And it is still illegal to fill in wet lands as has been done next to the Rivera property.

    If they want to pay taxes on it thats fine with me but it never has been and never will be their property. And That is New York State Constitutional Law. It can only be changed by a state referandum not a judges decision.

    But then it is the opinion of the writer.

  • Unless you speak Lanape, your “more local than thou” schtick not only makes you sound ignorant, it actually makes you more ignorant. You have no argument.