Seaplane dock on Shelter Island worries the neighbors

ELEANOR LABROZZI PHOTO | StndAIR’s Cessna Caravan seaplane off Crescent Beach in August.

Concern that a new dock off a residential property on Nostrand Parkway on Shelter Island will be used for commercial seaplane operations has a neighbor warning there may be a lawsuit in that town’s future.

Douglas Knight, one of the trustees of an estate that owns a large holding including three houses on Nostrand Parkway, wrote Shelter Island Town Board members last week to argue they should not grant a dock permit to André Balazs, owner of Sunset Beach restaurant and hotel, for his property at 33 Nostrand Avenue because it would be used commercially.

Mr. Knight did not know when he wrote the letter that the board had voted to grant the permit on November 10.

In his letter, Mr. Knight noted that Mr. Balazs had established a seaplane service to shuttle guests from New York to Sunset Beach and predicted that the dock might handle up to 11 landings a week, according to the schedule on its website. The neighborhood could be subjected to increased traffic as passengers are shuttled between Nostrand Avenue and the hotel, he wrote.

The dock appears designed to accommodate seaplanes, Town Board member Peter Reich commented last month when the Waterways Management Advisory Council reviewed the application and went on to recommend unanimously that the Town Board approve it. Peter Needham, chairman of the WMAC, said as his panel reviewed the application that neighbors should be notified so they were not caught off guard. “Nobody likes surprises,” he said.

Mr. Reich commented this week that the dock conformed to the town’s requirements and that if Mr. Balazs makes only personal use of it there would be nothing illegal about it.

The Town Board approved the dock on November 10 after a hearing at which nobody spoke in opposition. The permit allows for a 5-by-100-foot fixed dock with a 5-by-40-foot “L” at offshore end, stairways to beach, electric and water service at offshore end and one 2-pile dolphin in Shelter Island Sound.

The landings, takeoffs and beachings of StndAIR’s Red Cessna Caravan on pontoons were a familiar sight last summer off Crescent Beach. There were some grumblings that surfaced at Town Board work sessions about the potential dangers of a seaplane taxiing through congested waters to the beach to let off or pick up passengers. Councilman Reich commented then the only regulation on the town’s book that affected the operation was a speed limit for all vessels of 5 mph within 100 feet of the shoreline.

Mr. Knight learned of the dock in a November 17 story in the Reporter. Mr. Reich commented for that story that the absence of pilings would enable wings to easily pass over the dock. He said that when he “saw that the pilings for the last 20 feet or so were cut down to the lower dock surface, coupled with the fact that Mr. Balazs is part owner of Sunset Beach where seaplanes were landing all summer, [it] made me realize why he wanted the low dock with no pilings.”

When Mr. Knight learned in an email last week from Mr. Reich that his letter to the board had come in too late, Mr. Knight replied that the trustees of the Becker Appointment Trust, which owns the lands of the late Robert J. Fallert, were “looking into appealing this decision. The code is very clear as it pertains to the commercial characterization and use of docks. Clearly, the WMAC in its advisory role to the Town Board has ruled incorrectly and has ill-advised you. I would have liked to have handled it differently, but due to the lack of remaining time for filing an appeal, I have no other choice.”

In his November 30 letter, Mr. Knight wrote that the “Becker Appointment Trust owns 60 acres of largely undeveloped woodland stretching over 1,800 feet along the shoreline on West Neck. The family has owned the land since the early 1890s, maintains three all-season homes there, and has a vested interest in preserving the Island’s ‘out–of-the-way’ lifestyle as well as its unique sense of place.”

He wrote that “the proposed seaplane dock by André Balazs certainly gives us pause — especially in light of the fact that André just started his own airline, ‘StndAIR,’ last spring.”

He wrote that “StndAIR’s summer charter schedule reveals that between NYC’s Skyport Harbor and the Hamptons, three flights are offered on Thursdays, four flights on Friday and two flights each are scheduled Sunday and Monday — with optional continuing on to or from Shelter Island’ for all of the flights.”

StndAIR’s website lists East Hampton Airport and Crescent Beach as scheduled destinations, with fares $495 one way to and from East Hampton and $595 to and from Crescent Beach.

Mr. Knight wrote that “the neighbors … will not tolerate their quiet enjoyment to be diminished in any way by what will amount to Shelter Island’s first commercial ‘skyport.’” He predicted that the airline’s red 12-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan could deliver up to 48 scheduled passengers on Fridays who “will require land transfer from the new dock to the Sunset Hotel along the already over-travelled corridors of Nostrand Parkway and Belvedere Avenue …”