Repair of Mattituck deck opens a legal can of worms

When Glenn Meyran and his father built a redwood observation deck on their property overlooking Long Island Sound in Mattituck in 1975, they didn’t need any permits for the project.

After intense rains exposed some of the footings of the 24-by-8-foot deck last March, Mr. Meyran discovered some of them had begun to rot. He removed the deck and began to replace the footings, planning to shorten the length of the new deck to only 20 feet.

After Southold Town received an anonymous complaint about the project, Mr. Meyran was quickly ordered to stop work — and now he’s fighting for the right to complete it.

Observation decks on bluffs were made illegal under the town’s wetlands code in 2005. Even though Mr. Meyran’s deck pre-dated the ban and was legally exempt from it, he removed the deck voluntarily — which ended his right to keep it, according to the town.

The Southold Town Trustees agreed in July that they could not make an exception and allow Mr. Meyran to rebuild the deck by granting him a wetlands permit. He is challenging that ruling in court. He also has applied to the Southold Town Board for a coastal erosion hazard permit, which is required for any reconstruction of walkways and stairways in a coastal zone.

Mr. Meyran, who lives in Malverne but plans to retire to the Mattituck home he purchased from his mother in 2009, said at a November hearing on his case before the Town Board that he and his father had been building structures at the water’s edge since he was a child.

“We lived in the East Bronx on the water near the Whitestone Bridge, where we built a 100-foot dock over marshland,” he said. “I worked with my father on it when I was 8 years old.”

When the family bought the house in Mattituck, Mr. Meyran helped his father build the redwood observation deck.
“We maintained it without permits because we had no idea we needed permits. We used all types of erosion control. Japanese black pine was what they were using in those days,” he said.

The Meyrans constructed a bulkhead along the base of the cliff in front of their property with guidance from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and recently shored up the face of the bluff with sand bags planted with beach grass plugs.

In July, Mr. Meyran received a permit from the Town Trustees to repair stairs that run from the top of the bluff to the beach, but the panel allowed only a 32-square-foot landing at the top of the stairs, not the larger deck he wanted to rebuild.

Mr. Meyran’s father had received permits for the stairs from the Trustees and the DEC before they were built, but not for the deck because there was no requirement for one at the time.

His lawyer, Richard Lark of Cutchogue, told the Town Board in November that the observation platform was “the crown jewel” of Mr. Meyran’s property.

“They ignored the pre-existing status of the deck,” he said of the Trustees. “The law is clear as long as it wasn’t abandoned,” he insisted, arguing that his client always had the intention of replacing the deck and so never abandoned it.

He added that court rulings have allowed a non-conforming structure to be restored if there are no changes that change its non-conforming status.”

Mr. Lark brought realtor Andrew Stype to the hearing to testify that the deck added about $200,000 in value to the property. Mr. Stype cited eight properties of similar size and location, four of which had observation decks and four of which did not. The average selling price for the properties with observation decks was $1.62 million, while the average selling price for those without observation decks was $1.4 million.

“What the board did was confiscatory,” Mr. Lark said of the Trustees.

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