The latest dust-up between the East Hampton Town Trustees and residents of Lazy Point was rooted in a mere misunderstanding, according to Trustees Clerk Diane McNally. But, the veteran Trustee added, at the core of the row is an issue that is going to have to be broached at some point.
The Trustees lease out land at Lazy Point on which individually-owned homes are situated. A year ago, they raised the ire of the few dozen homeowners from the tiny enclave of waterside cottages and shacks on Napeague’s Shore Road when they proposed raising annual lease fees for the one-eighth-acre lots from $1,500 per year to $1,500 per month. This month, the Trustees—who dropped the 1,200-percent fee increase in favor of a more modest $150 annual hike—were again confronted by Lazy Point residents angered by what they understood to be a proposal to impose substantial reconstruction limits on any structures in the neighborhood.
The terms, which came out of a series of meetings between residents and members of the Trustees that were arranged after the row over the fees, included that any house that sustained damage amounting to more than 50 percent of its total value would have to be removed entirely and not rebuilt.
“How would you like it if someone told you they were going to take away your house if it gets damaged?” Rick Drew, a Shore Road homeowner, said. “People have spent a lot of money on their homes down there based on the lease program that’s been in place for 80 years.”
Ms. McNally said that the terms the residents had taken to be something the Trustees were thinking about codifying were just an informal note outlining some of the sort of restrictions other municipalities are imposing on coastal communities in the face of rising sea levels and worsening coastal storms. She said the Trustees have not entertained in any official way imposing such restrictions.
But, she added, they have been discussing shoreline regulations, both in general and in light of the Lazy Point development, and that in the not-too-distant future, some kind of long-term development guideline is going to have to be devised.
“I was just throwing it out there and I hit a raw nerve, I can understand that,” Ms. McNally said last week. “It’s an environmentally sensitive area. We’ve been discussing shorelines of late, after Sandy, and we’ve been looking to put something down about what can be done down there if a home is destroyed. I really don’t think that area is going to be conducive to reconstruction.”
Mr. Drew acknowledged that a mountain of considerations face municipal managers along the coast in light of the vast uncertainties about how rising sea levels will affect waterfront living.
“Erosion, sea level rise, loss of habitat—the brightest minds and the biggest organizations are all struggling to figure this out,” he said. “But in East Hampton, we have the [Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan] in place already. It handles that. Why would we add another layer?”
Shore Road runs through the sandy scrub pine dunelands near the entrance to Napeague Harbor. The land is owned by the Town Trustees, on behalf of all town landowners, and is leased in 50-foot-wide by 100-foot-deep lots. Most homes are built on mix-and-match parcels comprised of portions of two of the lots. Many of the leases, which must be renewed every year, have been held by the same families for decades.
Ms. McNally said that regardless of what the Trustees were to impose, many of the homeowners may have trouble securing permission from other agencies to rebuild severely damaged or destroyed homes. The Suffolk County Department of Health, for instance, would likely require upgrades to ancient septic systems under most of the houses now that may cause problems with setback requirements on the tiny lots, she surmised.
Mr. Drew said that there are many physical and environmental hurdles that face anyone who chooses to live in Lazy Point, particularly year-round, and that the residents there simply don’t want to add more governmental hurdles to the pile.
“It’s not a place for everyone,” he said. “But we are a lot of environmental- and community-minded people, many of whom have been there since the 1930s. We just want to plan a stable future for Lazy Point.”