Two disabled residents of a home on Amagansett’s Tyson Lane are waiting for East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals approval of a roll-out boardwalk that they believe would help them get to the beach.
Because they live adjacent to the Atlantic Double Dunes preserve, one of the largest remaining areas of undeveloped barrier beach and back dune ecosystems on Long Island, placing a structure on the dunes there is problematic.
The plan is to manually install a 6-foot-wide, 848-foot-long boardwalk made of teak and ipe wood that would lie flat on the ground going out toward the bluff crest, according to attorney Patrick Fife, who represents the Hess family, identified in the application as MTSTL LLC. The family and other households have deeded easements to the Nature Conservancy preserve to the south.
Most of the boardwalk would follow a footpath that has existed on the Nature Conservancy property since the 1970s, but it would deviate from that path before hitting a steep incline. The boardwalk would not require any grading of the sand or removal of vegetation in the area, Mr. Fife said.
But attorney Edwin Butterfield, who represents the Hesses’ neighbor at 10 Tyson Lane, who also uses the Nature Conservancy’s property to get to the beach, questioned at a ZBA board meeting on September 16 the validity of putting down a boardwalk when the applicants have beach chairs that are specifically intended to be used on the sand.
“It’s impractical and you might call me heartless for saying it’s unnecessary,” Mr. Butterfield said. “Even if they weren’t using the chairs, there are certain ways to get to the beach … they can get in the truck and drive around with a beach permit and park on the beach. All this so two people can get to the beach … it seems a shame to scar this property in this way.”
Board members were mostly concerned about beach vegetation, however, wondering if vegetation would be hurt by the 6-foot-wide walkway, especially where the boardwalk would blaze a new trail.
Although biologist Robert Grover, for the applicant, said there would be even more vegetation in the area of the boardwalk than there is now because it would allow beach grass and heather to take seed and grow up and around the walkway’s boards, Brian Frank, the chief environmental analyst for the Planning Department, said what would grow after the boardwalk was put down would be nominal.
“I think it is important to note the existing network of unimproved footpaths that have provided access for adjoining residences for decades,” he said. “If it is going to be improved it needs to be done in a way that provides a high level of environmental protection to the significant habitat that is vulnerable to human disturbance.”
Board members also asked if the width of the boardwalk could be reduced to lessen its impact, but Mr. Fife said the homeowners would need the extra space for their beach wheelchairs. Having that extra room would cause less harm than pushing the wheelchairs across the dunes, he said.
Even though the Nature Conservancy gave the applicants permission to put the southern portion of the boardwalk on the conservancy’s land after walking the proposed path, in a letter to the ZBA, the letter does not say that it approves of the deviation from the original footpath.
ZBA Chairman John Whelan said the board would keep the public hearing open for written comment for 30 days so the Nature Conservancy could write another letter of approval.