Southold Town wants to make it more difficult for homeowners in coastal erosion hazard areas to expand their homes.
An amendment to the town’s Coastal Erosion Hazard Act would limit expansion of houses in areas vulnerable to erosion to 25 percent of the existing structure’s livable floor area.
While Town Trustees and environmentalists said during a public hearing Tuesday night that the measure would protect homeowners from storm damage that is increasing in frequency, property rights advocates were not convinced.
Southold attorney Patricia Moore pointed out that many houses on North Sea Drive in Southold are summer bungalows of only 500 square feet. If the changes were enacted, she said, they could be expanded to just 625 square feet — less than the 700-square-foot living area required for new homes.
“If you’ve overnight created a whole community that is within the coastal erosion area, you’re creating a property that needs a 100 percent variance on buildable area issues,” Ms. Moore said.
Councilman Chris Talbot countered that by continuing to build in that area, homeowners are putting the whole community at risk.
John Betsch of Southold VOICE, a waterfront rights advocacy group, asked why the town decided to change the law.
“It’s really hypothetically a takeaway,” he said. “There has to be a rationale of why you’re changing it.”
Trustee Bob Ghosio said his board has seen many applications for additions to previously expanded homes, causing the space to expand more drastically than the code had intended.
“It becomes incrementally larger and larger … What we wanted to do is reign some of that in,” Mr. Ghosio said. He added that some homes on North Sea Drive are so big that they cast huge shadows on their smaller neighbors and sunlight never comes in.
Ms. Moore disagreed with that logic. “You’re penalizing the little guy because of the big guy,” she said.
The attorney said the town could redraft the law so it affected houses already larger than a certain floor area.
“If that’s what you’re trying to address, write it that way,” she said.
Environmentalist Lillian Ball commended the board for its increased vigilance in enforcing coastline restrictions. She said she was on North Sea Drive the morning of Hurricane Sandy and saw the damage it did there.
“These storms are not going away. They are not fluke occurrences,” Ms. Ball said. “We don’t want to be like the Rockaways. Look what happened to the Rockaways. I’m very pleased to see the rule is being clarified in such a way to make people think twice.”
The board closed the public hearing, but did not vote on the law.