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Bulkhead dispute leads to more delays for 123 Sterling project in Greenport

A final decision on a wetlands permit for the property at 123 Sterling Avenue in Greenport will have to wait at least another month after a public hearing elicited community environmental and safety concerns.

Village officials were expected to vote on a wetlands permit sought by Paul Pawlowski to replace 132 linear feet of bulkhead raised 18 inches in height. The permit was originally given the go-ahead in January with the condition that boats would be prohibited from docking on the east side of the bulkhead facing the channel toward Stirling Creek. Mr. Pawlowski has since re-applied for the approval without that condition in place.

In January, village mayor George Hubbard Jr. indicated that Mr. Pawlowski had “no intention of placing boats on the outside bulkhead,” a point disputed by the property owner during Thursday’s hearing at the Third Street Firehouse.

Mr. Pawlowski contends that the condition was tacked on at the last second and said he agreed not to rent the bulkhead space. “However there wasn’t one thought of giving up a right to a bulkhead that’s been in use for over 120 years,” he said Thursday. “We will not give up that right that is the most important right for every waterfront commercial property in Greenport.”

A back-and-forth discussion ensued between members of the public, Mr. Pawlowski and village officials concerning existing village code and whether to restrict use of the bulkhead. The hearing had been on hold since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

John Saladino, a member of the Conservation Advisory Council, spoke in opposition of removing the condition. “There’s not supposed to be boats moored that obstruct a channel,” he said, citing a portion of village code that prohibits mooring boats that interfere with “the full use” of channels. Mr. Saladino also said the dock protrudes into the federal waterway.

Other neighbors, including Pat Mundus, fear that boats — especially larger ones — docked in that location could pose challenges for other vessels attempting to enter the basin. 

Ms. Mundus, who owns East End Charters, said navigating the channel is especially challenging at low tide and boaters have adopted an unofficial single-file system to maneuver through.

Because of increased congestion and other hazards in the area, she fears future accidents and liability issues could be exacerbated by full use of the bulkhead in question. “There have been a lot of close calls,” she said in an interview Friday.

But Mr. Pawlowski said there’s room for two boats to pass. “If two boats can’t go [between] 250 feet, then the Shinnecock Canal needs to be shut down tonight,” he said.

Mr. Pawlowski agreed that improvements to the channel are needed and said dredging planned in the area will help. 

He floated a series of other compromises, including closing off 40 feet of the bulkhead closest to the peninsula to the east to boats.

He also offered to put up ‘no parking’ signs and removing tie-up cleats in the area, as well as limiting beam size to 15 feet along the entire bulkhead to prevent larger boats from tying up in order to improve navigability.

“There is a little bit of an issue there, but when you’re headed out of that inlet, headed south, it exponentially splays out,” he said. 

Earlier this year, the village recently received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the mouth of the basin between September and December, which hasn’t been done in decades. Bad shoaling in the area has made it difficult for the more than 500 boats that use the basin to navigate. 

Mr. Pawlowski said their goal is to improve the area, citing a $50,000 investment in a pumpout station and willingness to work with the CAC.

But Mr. Hubbard argued that the pumpout station is required by code, since more than four slips are planned as part of the project. “It’s not like you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart,” he said. “I know it’s an expense for you, but that’s required by code.”

Mr. Saladino added that planned dredging work may not occur until this fall. “If Safe Harbor is still in a position to still want to do it because of the pandemic,” Mr. Saladino said. “If they’re not, then we have to wait for the county to do it. It’s not a good idea,” he said.

In response to concerns over how the bulkhead may be used if the property ever changes hands, Mr. Pawlowski said his proposal would be long term, not just if they own the property. “We can mark it off on a survey saying ‘no boats here’ so it protects everyone who’s living there,” he said.

Rather than rent boat slips, he said they would be deeded to property owners at the coinciding housing project planned for the vacant 1.72 acre property.

Ms. Mundus acknowledged that the dock is a valuable waterfront asset that he shouldn’t be prohibited from using, but urged village officials to consider safety factors in their decision making process.

Two resolutions concerning the wetland permit were tabled until August and the board is expected to discuss the proposal again at next month’s work session.

The board also set a public hearing on site plan modifications and an amendment to the stipulation agreement for 123 Sterling Avenue for August 27.

Current plans for the property call for 12 market rate and five affordable units in the main building. Instead, Mr. Pawlowski has proposed those 17 units in the main building to remain at market rate and adding five affordable units in a standalone building that would front Ludlam Place.