Their docks destroyed, landowners pack meeting

TROY GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Rabbit Lane in East Marion was among the streets hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy on the North Fork.

It was a long night for the Southold Town trustees Wednesday, as the board held public hearings on more than 50 applications, most from residents hit hard by Hurricane Sandy who are planning to rebuild bulkheads and decks destroyed in the storm.

There were initially 82 applications on the agenda, but many were postponed.

Many residents who came in to discuss their projects were caught in a bind because their bulkheads were built before the trustees were given jurisdiction over waterfront properties on the Peconic Bay in 1992.

While people who had existing permits for structures built since 1992 were able to get emergency permits to repair hurricane damage, residents with older structures were required to come in for wetland and, if necessary, coastal erosion permits for structures that existed prior to the trustees’ jurisdiction.

The trustees started the meeting two hours early, at 4 p.m., in order to deal with the overflow of applications.

“I know a lot of people are frustrated they couldn’t get emergency permits,” said trustee president Jim King at the start of the proceedings. “Thank you for your patience.”

Many of the permit requests came from residents of Rabbit Lane in East Marion, which saw some of the most extensive damage in town from the storm.

Attorney Patricia Moore represented many of those homeowners at the hearings.

“What I’m seeing, I find very upsetting,” she told the board, after board members were leery of several applications that included rebuilding large decks that had never received trustee permits. “You should give permits for existing structures…. Everyone who’s on Rabbit Lane should have a right to put it back. Of all places, Rabbit Lane seems to me imperative that the supervisor consider allowing for suspension of certain procedures in local laws.”

Mr. King responded that, while the town supervisor could consider waiving the requirements due to the disaster declaration after the storm, the trustees could not make that determination on their own.

Applicants who question the trustees’ decisions have a right to appeal their cases to the town board, Mr. King said.

Trustee attorney Lori Hulse was skeptical of Ms. Moore’s position. She said that, while the disaster declaration might give the supervisor the right to waive permits for bulkheads and other erosion control structures, it would not give him the right to waive them for decks or bathhouses or other ancillary structures.

“I understand what you’re saying, Pat, but you’re misapplying it,” she said. “It’s good advocacy, but it’s not actually accurate in terms of the law.”

“I come from the ‘yes we can do it’ mentality,” countered Ms. Moore.

Dockbuilder John Costello, who spoke on behalf of many other applicants, said his main purpose in appearing before the board was to get permits to repair bulkheads. Any of his clients could come back later to argue for their decks after their bulkheads were approved, he said.

“The last thing I want to be is a lawyer,” he said.

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