Z.B.A. Ponders 56 Oceanfront Pilings

Lily Pond Lane owners watch proceedings and worry over their own views

The owners of an oceanfront property on Lily Pond Lane, who are seeking permission to tear down a house in a coastal erosion hazard area and construct a larger one in its place, presented a scaled-back plan for the property to the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday. It was the fourth hearing for the application, which has been pared down each time. 

“Every single month, you diminish it, so in another couple of months we might be where we want to be,” said Lys Marigold, the chairwoman. 

In January, when Norman and Helene Stark, the owners, initially applied, they proposed a 7,567-square-foot house and pool within the coastal erosion hazard area, but landward of the existing house. Richard Warren, a consultant on environmental issues, land use, and development who is advising the Starks, told the board Friday that the pool would now be sited farther north on the property, behind the hazard line.

“I certainly applaud that move, thank you,” said Ms. Marigold. 

The new house, according to the revised plan, would be over 300 square feet smaller than before, and it would now comply with a dune setback requirement, though it would remain in the hazard area. Because there is an 18-foot grade change on the property, Mr. Warren explained, placing the house any farther back would deprive the Starks of an ocean view, as well as adequate space for accessory structures, including an existing tennis court, tennis house, and parking area.

Due to Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations pertaining to flood-hazard areas, the new structure would need to be elevated. Earlier construction plans had called for 66 pilings to be driven in, but Mr. Warren said the reduction in the house’s size has lowered the number to 56. In March, board members had expressed concern about the impact pile driving might have on the dunes.

On Friday, Mr. Warren noted that a different zoning board had approved a renovation at 199 Lily Pond Lane, the oceanfront home of David Geffen, the music and film executive, for which 29 piles had been driven 60 feet from the edge of a coastal dune.

Also speaking on the Starks’ behalf were Steven Maresca, a structural engineer, Dr. Lee Weishar, a scientist and coastal engineer, and Tom Lawrence, a former village building inspector and a construction contractor, all of whom said that installing piles would not disturb the dunes. 

Mr. Maresca said he had helped build about 50 oceanfront houses, including several that were either next to or on top of a dune. “I have never seen damage to the dune due to pile driving,” he said.

Mr. Lawrence said, “Over my 30-plus years, I have found no issue installing FEMA-mandated and code-required wood piles . . . in any dune structure or near-dune structure.”

Afterward, Ms. Marigold offered a skeptical review of the testimony. “It’s a wonder they call it a coastal erosion hazard line, because, according to the experts, nothing ever happens to the dune,” she said. “No matter what you do, it just stays stable.”

The board is awaiting its own report on the impacts of construction, which will come from Robert Hermann, a coastal management specialist. 

During the hearing, several attorneys offered differing suggestions on how to interpret the code for development in a coastal erosion hazard area. 

Brian Matthews, representing two of the Starks’ neighbors who oppose the application, argued that the board should prioritize the statute’s environmental protections, and not the Starks’ objectives.

Linda Margolin, on the other hand, said the statute was like any land-use regulation, and allowed for variances when a property owner had no “reasonable and prudent” alternative. She cited a Z.B.A. determination in September 2018 that allowed Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks C.E.O., and his wife, Sheri Kersch-Schultz, to rebuild a swimming pool in a coastal erosion hazard area on their Gracie Lane property. “That’s a grant of a variance that is consistent with what the Starks are asking,” she said. 

David Eagan, an attorney for Mr. Geffen and two other owners of Lily Pond Lane residences that are seaward of the coastal erosion hazard line, told the board his clients were following the Starks’ application closely, and were worried that the Z.B.A. might make an erroneous determination that would ultimately require all owners of oceanfront houses to move them out of the hazard area, and away from the ocean view, for which they had paid a premium. That would cause the homeowners severe economic damage, he said, and “would have a significant impact on the most historic and viable properties in the village.”

In other news from the meeting, the board granted Harry Falk, the owner of 61 Dayton Lane, two variances. One will allow 2,441 square feet of lot coverage where the maximum permitted is 2,175 square feet. The other is for a swimming pool, to be constructed a little more than 10 feet from the rear property line, where the required setback is 20 feet. 

The approvals were granted on the condition that a studio space above the garage be removed, and also the slate and stone coverage specified on the most recent survey of the property.