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Your Town Trustees at Work

Report From August 22, 2007 Southold Trustees Meeting
by Patricia C. Moore

The Trustees start their meetings with:

(1) Administrative Permits for such actions as: replacement of shingles, insulation and garage doors to existing dwelling; new fence posts for a fence; replacement of sanitary systems; and landscaping within Trustee jurisdiction. If you are by the water presume you need their permission to do anything.

(2) Two Mooring permits were issued in West Creek

(3) Amendments/Extensions/Transfers reviewed: In addition to reviewing modifications to existing permits, on Transfer of permits, the Trustees take this opportunity to bring some permits into current requirements: One transfer required the applicant to create a buffer area.

Word of Advice: This is an important process if you are buying or selling property – the transfer may disclose a violation or condition of a permit which the seller never fulfilled. Before you invite the Trustees to your property to inspect read your permit carefully to be sure that you do not have outstanding issues.

(4) Coastal Erosion & Wetland Permits: The Trustees reviewed 31 permit applications- most went smoothly- I will report on difficult ones with a word of advice.

A. An unfortunate property owner is facing denial of a permit for a property located along the Long Island Sound (North Sea Drive, Southold). The owner of a vacant lot, before he bought the property, looked to the right of the lot and then to the left of the lot and saw new construction, he called the building department and asked if the lot he was describing could accommodate a 4,000 sq.ft. House and logically he was given the setbacks from the water and the answer was yes. Unfortunately he did not get “expert” advice on the issues affecting waterfront property along the Long Island Sound. He is now facing possible denial of a permit to build because the property is in the Coastal Erosion Hazard Area.

The Coastal Erosion Law was adopted in 1991 at the insistence of the State and Federal governments. Availability of Flood Insurance for a community required that the Town adopt the Coastal Erosion Hazard Law. The law is poorly written and the Town has struggled with this law for years and tried interpreting what an owner is permitted to build. Existing homes may be renovated and even expanded to a limited degree.

However, vacant land must go through extensive review. Getting permission to build will depend on definitions of “beach”, “dunes” etc. Even if every lot on that block has been developed with a 10,000 sq.ft. Home, the Town and neighbors may claim that your one and only lot has a “dune” and therefore according to this law no construction is permitted in a “dune”. This results in extreme hardship to the lot owner which could have been avoided by “expert” advice before purchasing the property. As to owners of these lots faced with inverse condemnation- if the property is to be prohibited from development then maybe it should be purchased as park land. In some cases the Town or County has purchased these lots.

B. The Local Waterfront Revitalization Policy (LWRP) continues to find any dock or house requiring a permit (not 100 feet from wetlands) “inconsistent” with the LWRP policies. In a waterfront community with preexisting lots a finding that docks and homes along the water are inconsistent with the LWRP policies makes you wonder if anyone has any common sense.

The LWRP law was drafted by the State (they are in Albany- not on the water) and the State promised that this law would be used to coordinate State-Fed and local permits. This has not happened. ½ of the Trustees permits are a result of revisions required by other agencies which disagree with the Trustee’s permit.

C. An issue came up with an owner who had a grandfathered float- the float exceeded the 6×20 size limitation of today. The Trustees made certain statements which raised “red flags” for me – if an old permit is not transferred to the new owner the new owner does not get the benefit of the pre-existing structure. This does not make sense – a marine structure is built with a permit (equivalent to the CO you get on a house) the permit is proof that the Trustees approved this structure. Once it is built it is legal. It is good practice to transfer the permits from previous owners to the new owner but not doing so does not mean that the structure is somehow illegal. This could present problems for some of you.

This applicant was also told that the grandfathered float can stay but it can not be replaced. Floats come in and out of the water every year- when does it become a “replacement”. In order to keep grandfathered structures they must be maintained so they do not become “non-functioning”. The logic of the Trustee’s comments regarding a grandfathered structure made me concerned with the Trustees efforts to stop any docks in certain waters.

D. No new docks are permitted in Downs Creek, Hallocks Bays Hashamomuck Creek and Ponds… newly proposed are also Long Creek (branch of Mattituck Creek, East of Grand Avenue bridge) and West Creek. Those of you who have docks now in these water bodies may have difficult time “replacing” your structure. Make sure you have evidence of permits for the structure you have. These will be fights of the future.

E. What to do if your neighbor is “hogging” the waterfront. The Trustees require 15 feet of clearance between your dock and your property line. What happens if your neighbor did not have to follow that rule and now is preventing you from locating a dock on your own property. Also what if the waterfront property was developed 50 years ago with, at the time, enough waterfront for a dock but now does not meet their rule. I hope the Trustees recognize the inequality of new rules to existing problems. I will keep you advised of the progress on one of those cases.

F. Repeated warnings heard at the hearing: Do not throw your grass clippings or pruning down your bluff. We know it is tempting to use the bluff as a lawn compost pile but this really causes damage to the bluff. Also- keep those sprinklers off the bluff- water runoff is prime cause of bluff damage. Install drywells and gutters (it is the law), also plant a natural buffer along the top of the bluff (lawn area does not slow down or prevent water runoff onto the bluff). Get some advice from Landscape professionals of “proper storm water management practices”- prevention is much more cost effective then Bluff restoration.

Patricia C. Moore
Attorney At Law, Southold

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