631.655.7255 |

Slow Going on Wetlands

Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp. Reprinted with permission

Changes to Chapter 275 are examined closely at meeting
By Julie Lane

Southold Town Board members are prepared to approve changes to Chapter 275 of the wetlands code when they meet Tuesday, but with the caveat that trustees continue to hammer away at the more substantive changes they believe are necessary to make the code more user-friendly.

The revised code should focus on “can-dos,” Supervisor Scott Russell told trustees at a joint meeting at Town Hall Monday afternoon.

“A lot of the public aren’t intentionally violating code; they just want to know what they can or can’t do,” he said. “We’re going from a policy of prohibition to a policy of permission.”

“This is really the tip of the iceberg,” Councilman Tom Wickham said about the initial set of changes, which deal primarily with efforts to clarify some of the code language. He estimated that 90 percent of comments made at the Dec. 4 public hearing dealt with concerns not yet on the table.

“It’s a breathing document,” Trustee Dave Bergen said, promising the effort to revise Chapter 275 will continue.

The role of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and definitions about what constitutes shoreline and what constitutes wetlands need to be addressed, Mr. Wickham said.

Among the changes that the current code revisions will make are:

* Reducing from 50 feet to 30 feet the minimum non-disturbance buffer where no operations or maintenance could be performed without approval of the trustees. There was a move to eliminate the distance reference, but Mr. Russell argued that putting in a firm limit gives people a sense of what the trustees want. The 30-foot recommendation is based on buffer science, principal planner Mark Terry told both boards Monday. It’s based on the minimum distance that will remove nitrogen and phosphorous if the property is heavily vegetated, he said.

* Establishing a 24-month look-back period to determine whether a building, dock, pier, wharf, jetty groin, dike, dam or other water-control device or structure can be repaired. If the owner can prove that the structure was functional within the previous 24 months, the structure can be rebuilt.

* Prohibiting burial or installation of a propane tank less than 25 feet from the wetlands.

* Authorizing the town to remove illegal fencing. Trustees may permit fences where they decide an applicant has demonstrated a specific need, such as to serve a handicapped individual, according to the revised code. But such fencing cannot be closer than 10 feet to the mean high-water mark and cannot impede access to the water or beach area where the public is allowed. Only split-rail fences would be allowed on beaches.

* Eliminating a paragraph dealing with allowing storage on blocks of small boats or floats not longer than 20 feet long on tidal wetlands, other intertidal areas or freshwater wetlands. The trustees’ aim was to allow residents to mitigate damage to the wetlands while storing the boats and dock parts on blocks, but that’s contrary to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation law. For the town to allow such storage when the state prohibits it would only result in confusion and possible prosecution, Mr. Russell said. The town has to write code that is as strict or more strict than state standards, he said.
Every creek in town has boats on blocks, Mr. Bergen said.

“We’re trying to accommodate people without harming the wetlands,” Trustee Jim King said.

“We tried to do something good, but got trumped by the DEC,” Mr. Bergen said.

By eliminating the entire paragraph, local residents remain subject to the DEC rules, but aren’t violating any town rules, Mr. Russell said. That leaves it to the individual to comply with state standards or risk being ticketed by state DEC agents, he said.

* Striking a proposal that would have authorized trustees to revoke a permit when a violation is determined to have occurred. Instead, the code prohibiting new permits for anyone named a defendant in any unresolved wetland violation case will stand. Only the building department has the authority to issue a stop work order, Councilman Dan Ross said.

Still to be revisited is the issue of how involved trustees want to be in tree removal on property within their purview. On the one hand, they don’t want to inspect every individual tree a landowner might want to remove, but want to assure there is no clear cutting of trees “within our jurisdiction,” Trustee Jill Doherty said.

Another unresolved issue that was included in initial changes but somehow got dropped before the public hearing notice was advertised is a proposal to allow private landowners to build boat lifts at the discretion of the trustees.

The advantage of private boat lifts is that it eliminates the need to use toxic paints on boat bottoms, Mr. Bergen said. It also encourages increased development of wetlands by encouraging landowners to create a basin for their boat lifts, Trustee Bob Ghosio Jr. said.

If town attorney Pat Finnegan judges that it’s not a major change to the advertised proposal, the boat lift item could still be added to the resolution Tuesday night.

About "Janet Deluca"

No Comments

Comments are closed.