The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals is leaning toward granting two Amagansett residents permission for a boardwalk through the Atlantic Double Dunes, provided they reduce its width by 2 feet.
At a work session on Tuesday, the board members took a straw poll. Given the applicants’ situation, two members, Don Cirillo and David Lys, said they’d be comfortable approving the requested 6-foot-wide boardwalk, with some stipulations. Three members said they’d be in favor of approving a 4-foot-wide boardwalk.
This past summer, the applicants, the Hess family of the Hess fuel company, who live next to the ocean on Tyson Lane, applied to install a roll-out boardwalk so they could take their beach wheelchairs to the shore. They told town officials that they need help getting across the dunes by way of the 6-foot boardwalk, which would be 848 feet long and made of teak and ipe. The boardwalk would lie flat, extending out from the house toward the bluff crest.
Like other homeowners on Tyson Lane, the Hesses have deeded easements to The Nature Conservancy preserve to the south, and The Nature Conservancy has in turn given the Hesses permission for their boardwalk and its proposed path.
Susan Hess has had four spinal surgeries and has a titanium cage supporting her spine. Her mother, Debra Kessler, has early-onset dementia and is unsteady on her feet, according to letters provided by their doctors.
Most of the boardwalk would follow a footpath that has existed since the 1970s but would deviate from that path before hitting a steep incline. The boardwalk would not require any grading of the sand or removal of vegetation, according to Patrick Fife, the attorney representing the applicants.
Mr. Fife said that the Hesses have offered to vegetate both sides and underneath the boardwalk’s slats. This was agreeable to most board members, although Brian Frank, the chief environmental analyst for the Planning Department, had previously said that any growth would be nominal.
Some neighbors have voiced concern about the boardwalk, saying it would leave a “scar” through the Atlantic Double Dunes.
To decrease the amount of space affected, the majority of zoning board members said that it would be best to decrease its width, which would still provide access to the beach.
ZBA Chairman John Whelan and members Cate Rogers and Lee White argued that 4 feet should be enough and would allow the opportunity to plant more vegetation on either side of the boardwalk.
“This hits me a little bit in the heartstrings,” said Mr. Lys, explaining that he was once constrained by a wheelchair. “The neighbors have said they could just drive on the beach—but you can’t drive on that beach in the middle of the day. I would hate not to allow somebody to go to the beach, and it’s nice to go to the beach when you’re sick.”
Mr. Lys said it would be better for the ZBA to decide now where to place the boardwalk rather than to have a homeowner on that street, knowing they have an easement, put one anywhere. He said the path that has been chosen is the best choice environmentally.
Mr. Cirillo said that decreasing the width from 6 to 4 feet is arbitrary and that he would like the family to be able to navigate their 34-inch-wide beach chairs safely down a 6-foot boardwalk.
“The problem with tweaking this application is that it almost becomes a responsibility of ours if something happens and the applicant does come back saying, ‘My guy got hurt—I asked for 6 and you gave me 4 [feet],’” Mr. Cirillo said. “They’re asking for 6 feet for a reason. But I guess you could argue that two-thirds of a loaf is better than none.”
When reached on Monday, Mr. Fife said he couldn’t comment on the board’s request until it actually makes a decision, which it is expected to do within the next two weeks.