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Adventures at the July Trustee’s Meeting

Here are some of the adventures from the Trustees’ meeting-

Trustees matters tend to range from the mundane to the most complicated applications. Wednesday night they ran the full course.

Among the administrative permits, which by definition are “intended to provide for expedited review for projects and do not pose a threat to the environment,” prove to be neither expedited nor straightforward.  The administrative permits which always pose the most difficulty to the board are requests to cut down weeds which block views or the maintenance of buffers. The board reached a compromise with one applicant on Soundview Avenue.   He wanted to return his property to the condition it was before this year’s tropical climate allowed his natural vegetation (invasive vines and weeds) to grow as if on steroids.  He wanted to cut the bamboo down to one foot but the Trustees recommended four feet.  The compromise was to cut the weeds down to four feet but the Trustees would re-inspect and consider his request to cut more, if appropriate.

The moral to our members is to keep their property maintained and weeds under control, because once they takes over your property, it is more difficult to obtain permission to recover your land.  Any activity in a “non disturbance area” is prohibited (except with very-very good reason) or any activity in the non-turf buffer requires an administrative permit from the Trustees.  Since the value of the waterfront properties is the view, the Trustees discretionary review becomes a routine fight.

Another application to provide a stable area by a dock to give a safe access to an elderly family member provoked a cordial discussion of alternative materials.  Again the recommendation is to seek guidance from the Trustees before spending money on materials that are not suitable for the shoreline.  A $50.00 administrative permit with “proposed material” saves the owner the cost of removing unauthorized material choices.

The Trustees were forced to approve a wetland permit for a house which the Trustees previously denied.  The application in West Lake Road went through litigation in two courts, NYS Supreme Court and the Appellate Division at which time the town lost.  The question is could a compromise by the owner and Trustees avoided litigation?  Ultimately, reasonable environmental conditions to a wetland permit would have saved the Town of Southold (you as taxpayers) and the property owner thousands of dollars in legal fees, time and aggravation.  The best minds find compromise which ultimately is good for the pocketbook and the environment.

Among the Wetland Permits, two applications for reconstruction of groins on two different properties in the same waterfront area of Mattituck brought out the difficulty with groins.  The policy of both the DEC and the Trustees are to limit hardening shoreline structures; however, homes must be protected.  In one case the owner allegedly expanded a groin without a permit from the Trustees and in the other case the owner asks permission to reconstruct a groin which has become “nonfunctional” and is clearly needed to protect their house.  The common problem is that along the shoreline there was a time in which groins were constructed to build up the beach and protect the upland properties.  However, the construction and now the elimination of groins have serious regional impacts.  The historic problem is that as one groin was constructed by one property owner, it necessitated the construction of another groin by their neighbor and then another by the next guy because the natural flow of the sand is disrupted.  The property owner without a groin would lose his beach, which protects the home against flooding.  In many Southold bay-front communities this is a serious problem.   For the applicants, their house is threatened due to their non functioning groin. The Trustees correctly asked the affected owners to come in together and meet with experts from the State and Federal government to find a regional solution.  The final outcome may be that once the groins have been built they must be kept functional to protect the upland properties.  It is wise to get expert opinions, however these experts are the same ones who recommended groins originally.  Hopefully they will be correct this time.

Finally, a vacant property (from hell) on Skunk Lane was approved by the Trustees for a wetland permit originally issued in 2005 which had expired.  The Trustees were not the problem, this property was once a campsite for Native American Indians and finding Indian artifacts must have given the property owner nightmares.  Cutchogue, as is evident by the name, was once a settlement for Native Americans.  The State of New York has most of Cutchogue on their cultural heritage maps as potential archaeological sites.  If the property is vacant (probably undisturbed) and an application to DEC is filed they will request a Phase I Archaeological Assessment.  The Phase I is a literature search which identifies potential sites.  There is literature dating back to the 1600s for Southold which may discuss Native American sites and cultural heritage from the 1600s which will be cited in a Phase I.  If your property is within one-half mile from a potential Indian campsite, an archaeological assessment may be required.   The second step is a Phase II which requires a physical dig on the property by experts.  If artifacts are found, then these items must be retrieved, inventoried and cataloged.  Generally, the cost of this phase I and II – when nothing is found – is $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the size of the property.  In this case 8300 artifacts were discovered.  The Trustees found the report fascinating.   One can only have sympathy for property owners who probably thought they were going to build their dream house within one year.

Patricia C. Moore Esq.

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