Residents who live on and walk the beach in Amagansett say a deteriorating pier that had been part of Dr. Dennistoun M. Bell’s estate has become an eyesore and a safety hazard.
But removing the 103-foot dock would mean changing the shoreline, the residents and the East Hampton Town Planning Department agree. The pier’s steel beams have collected sand drifting south, preserving a walkable beach but keeping sand from the beach to the south.
To keep the beach the way it is, members of the Broadview Property Owners Association have asked the Zoning Board of Appeals to overturn a decision by the chief building inspector, who denied a building permit to rehabilitate the dock.
In a letter to the applicants in 2013, Tom Preiato, the chief building inspector, said he would not grant the building permit because the applicants did not demonstrate that the environment or the public would benefit from its replacement. The applicants had sought the ZBA’s approval in 2011 but withdrew the application because the ZBA had wanted a reduction in the length of the pier, which would have allowed the building inspector to approve the repairs on his own.
Last Tuesday, October 28, attorney Patrick Fife, representing the Broadview Property Owners Association, presented an application seeking permission to remove an “L”-shaped portion of the dock and shorten it by 15 feet. A new steel piling would be installed around an existing steel piling for a total length of 91 feet.
“The association is looking to preserve the status quo and protect the beach that is currently there,” Mr. Fife said. “The beach to the north has existed for close to a century, and the goal is to maintain that beach.”
Dr. Bell built a colonial revival style mansion on 155 acres on Gardiners Bay in 1916. He continued to buy land around his estate, eventually collecting more than 500 acres. He built the dock in the late 1920s or early 1930s so that he could take his 40-foot sailboat out into the bay. Today, the water is nowhere deep enough to support docking a boat there.
Mr. Fife said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Environmental Conservation have both issued permits to repair the dock.
“I urge the board to view this project compared to the presently existing dock or if it continues to deteriorate,” Mr. Fife said. “The removal [of the dock] will have a negative environmental impact.” He said changes in the coastal dynamics would result in the complete elimination of the beach.
Rameshwar Das, a Barnes Landing resident who was involved in drafting the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, said he supports rehabilitating the dock because it acts as a groin, maintaining the beach to the north. “Simply put, if the dock goes, the beach to its north will disappear, and a significant recreational and public access amenity for the town will be gone,” he wrote in a letter to the ZBA. “Natural littoral processes have not been present in this area for close to a century. Rehabilitating the Bell dock into a simpler and less hazardous configuration will keep the beach in place and at least not make a bad situation worse.”
According to residents who frequent the stretch, the beach is owned by the Broadview Property Owners Association and, farther to the north, the Barnes Landing Association, but each association has a covenant in its bylaws that allows the public access to the beach.
“It’s a wonderful little neighborhood,” said Herb Fiero, the president of the Barnes Landing Association, on Friday at the end of Barnes Hole Road. “What draws everybody together is that beach.”
Mr. Fiero said the rusty steel beams and decaying wood of the pier have gotten much worse in just nine months, which was the last time he was at the structure. “It’s the only thing I can stand in front of and say I’m in better shape,” he quipped.
Butch Ginsberg, a trustee of the Barnes Landing Association, said people used to fish and do yoga on the dock 10 years ago, but now nothing is left of it to use and it’s an “eyesore” and a “disgrace” for the neighbors. He said the association, which represents 225 homeowners, voted in support of replacing the old dock with a new structure and appealing the building inspector’s decision.
“I would like you to know that the homeowners of Barnes Landing are passionately in favor of repairing that Bell Estate dock,” he told the ZBA on Tuesday, October 28. “The way it looks now, even from a cosmetic point of view, when someone comes to the area, it’s a disaster. It’s embarrassing if you live here. It’s a detriment to the reputation of the neighborhood and dangerous to the people that will try to traverse the beach and go to Fresh Pond.”
Brian Frank, the town’s chief environmental planner, said without the structure there, the shoreline would narrow out over time, but the result would be the loss of woodland habitat and erosion of the bluffs.
“I do think the key here is retaining this and allowing the shoreline to naturalize south of it as much as possible,” he said last Tuesday night. “The ultimate question for the board is not ‘should the structure be rebuilt at all?’ but to what extent it should be rebuilt to in the future. Its removal over time will result in the loss of habitat and would likely increase erosion risks to the waterfront properties.”
The ZBA members will discuss the application at their next board meeting.