In their never-ending quest to maintain public beaches, the East Hampton Town Trustees have shown an interest in Mollie Zweig’s Georgica Beach property on West End Road. Ms. Zweig wants to install a hard structure—a sand-covered rock revetment—on the property to protect the dunes and home from future storm surges. But the Trustees are advocating for a soft solution by hauling in sand and beach grass and letting nature take its course. Furthermore, they say that the land in question is actually public property, therefore under the jurisdiction of the Trustees.
In front of the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals on September 27, Ms. Zweig’s attorney, Stephen Angel of Esseks, Hefter, and Angel, and Aram Terchunian of First Coastal, a Westhampton Beach erosion-control firm, were seeking a permit on Ms. Zweig’s behalf for a hard structure because they said nothing else would do. According to Mr. Terchunian, three quarters of the dune had been washed away, even with a stone groin in place. Ms. Zweig has already obtained a wetlands permit from the State Department of Environmental Conservation for the project, but needs the permission of East Hampton Village because her plans would affect the dune.
Trustee Diane McNally pleaded with ZBA members to look more deeply at the application and consider not granting the easement because of the damage a hard structure would do to the shoreline. She argued that the Trustees own the land lying south of the beach grass line on Ms. Zweig’s property because it has shifted over time due to erosion.
But Mr. Angel argued that it was avulsion, a sudden change to the shoreline by a storm, that changed the beachfront, which does not change the title of the land in question.
“A cataclysmic series of acts, Irene, Sandy, a couple nor’easters, chunked out portions of the shoreline in this area along the ocean,” he said. “A big storm came in and it chunked out a piece of your property, the title to the property that you lost in the storm stays with you pretty much forever. The only property you lose along the shoreline is property that’s eroded.”
According to Ms. Zweig’s application, she has lost approximately 90 linear feet of dune and 3,200 cubic yards of dune sand over the past two years as a result of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.
“The property’s shoreline is a severely eroded dune with a low and narrow beach,” the application states.
The new rock revetment is planned to be placed “as far landward as possible,” according to Mr. Terchunian.
“If she is landward of everybody else, the revetment can’t possibly interfere with public access before they do,” he said, referring to the areas within 2,000 feet on either side of her property that are protected by some kind of structure, and noting that the ocean shoreline of the village is completely sea-walled one mile, from Main Beach to Georgica. “By making this revetment more landward it eliminates all potential for it to interact and limit public access.”
Mr. Angel added that the ZBA was not the correct venue to air title concerns and that such a matter should be brought before the New York State Supreme Court.
ZBA Chairman Frank Newbold said the issue is a complex one, “but to wait until there is a clear policy that involves all government bodies, to risk someone’s personal property on a wait-and-see contingency does not seem quite fair to the homeowner, quite frankly,” he said.
The ZBA is expected to issue a determination for the application on Friday at 11 a.m.
Ms. Zweig came under fire in 2011 when she put up a fence, roping off her property from the rest of the beach. The fence has since washed away, although a pole close to the eroded sand dune is still in place.