Hardened shoreline reduction goal eliminated from comprehensive plan

An ambitious goal to reduce the percentage of hardened shoreline in Southold has been stricken from the town’s comprehensive plan.

The goal, to reduce by 20 percent the amount of shoreline hardening structures, was originally listed in a chapter of the plan on community character under a section that focused on preserving scenic vistas.

It was removed during revisions to that chapter after Southold Voice, an organization of waterfront property owners, protested the proposal in August.

In an August 15 letter to Southold Planning Director Heather Lanza, Southold Voice chairman John Betsch said the words of the proposal “are much more than a seemingly innocuous goal, and have the potential for significant effect on the well-being, property rights, and property value of many.”

Mr. Betsch added that many regulatory agencies, which often have conflicting rules, already govern what can be done with shoreline hardening structures and said that “another nebulous mandate of this type is neither appropriate nor warranted.”

“Shoreline structures are approved on a case-by-case basis by numerous agencies according to regulation and function,” he wrote. “The comprehensive plan should not and cannot mandate a goal as this.”

Planning Director Heather Lanza said this week that her office heard Mr. Betsch’s concerns, and plans to address shoreline hardening instead in the natural resources chapter of the plan, which is due to be drafted in June 2012.

She said planners will base their recommendation in the natural resources chapter on a more thorough analysis of shoreline hardening structures, in conjunction with the Southold Town Trustees.

“We thought it was more of an issue to be brought up in the natural resources chapter. It would have more background and context there,” she said.

Mr. Betsch said his group decided to push against the restriction after several members of Southold Voice aired concerns about the recommendation at their annual meeting in late July.

“Why they even considered it, I have no idea,” he said of the planning department. “Some of the trustees didn’t think it would be a good idea either. It would probably be in conflict with some other New York State rules.”

Mr. Betsch said he is troubled by the planners’ focus on protecting scenic vistas, when those vistas often cross private property.

“We can see it coming eventually where somebody who lives on the other side of the street from a waterfront property says ‘you’re preventing my viewshed,’” he said.

He added that the planners’ decision to word the recommendation in terms of setting a percentage by which to reduce shoreline hardening was also troubling, adding that it would seem to imply that the town would need to deny 20 percent of applications to rebuild shoreline hardening structures.

“That’s like saying to the police department ‘You’ve gotta give out so many tickets.’” he said. “Do they have to give out 20 percent more tickets?”

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