By Kathryn G. Menu
The Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee has been tasked with protecting the waterfront one addition, pool and dock at a time — imposing a wetlands buffer as each new project comes before the committee in an effort to reduce the amount of fertilizers and toxins entering bays and estuaries.
Most applicants have sought to comply minimally with the wetlands buffer legislation, seeking 25 feet of natural vegetation to a wetlands area — allowed under the code for properties that are undersized and therefore permitted to seek a buffer below the standard 75 foot requirement.
According to Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Richard Warren, of Inter-Science Research Associates in Southampton, that exception was created within the wetlands code specifically because of the often small lot sizes in Sag Harbor Village. However, on Monday night during the Harbor Committee’s monthly meeting, Warren suggested the board review the wetlands regulations and what it feels it should require. Should a property owner, for example, be granted a wetlands permit with a 25 foot buffer under the rule for undersized lots when they are proposing a large house, with a pool on the waterfront, Warren wondered.
And the committee largely agreed that as more applications come in on the waterfront, hammering out very specific conditions for exceptions and standards for what kind of native vegetation it would like to see planted as a result of waterfront development was crucial moving forward.
On Monday night, the board heard from one applicant hoping to gain the board’s approval for what would ultimately be a smaller wetlands boundary than minimally required under the village code. Outside of a “lawfully operating marina or recreational marina” any construction requires a 75 foot setback under village code. The installation of wastewater disposal systems requires a 100 foot setback and clearing, fertilizing of vegetation, use of herbicides or the establishment of turf, lawn or landscaping requires a 50 foot setback.
Josh Schwartz, who has proposed reconstructing a rock bulkhead with a new corrugated bulkhead, after he said erosion has threatened his property, came before the board also proposing a 4-by-76-foot dock. For either project a minimum 25 foot buffer would be required under the code.
However, according to Warren, the buffer only stretches along one portion of the bulkhead, leaving a sandy beach — where the family enjoys its outdoor Adirondack chairs — untouched.
Warren said he had no issues with the change in the style of bulkhead but was concerned the vegetative buffer was not significant enough.
“This is not really, in my opinion, consistent with what the code says, which is you have to plant and replant a buffer if necessary,” said Warren.
Schwartz noted the sandy beach has been there since before his family purchased the property, dating back 25 years on the most recent survey.
“When we have a house that has had grassy lawn right up to the bulkhead for 100 years and they come in to improve their property, they lose 25 feet of that lawn,” noted committee chairman Bruce Tait. “The only way we can get these buffers back is through new applications for construction.”
“What we are trying to do, the purpose of this is to protect the waters we have out there,” explained Tait. “The only way we can is apply a 25 foot buffer is on new applications.”
Tait noted if Schwartz wanted to keep his beach, he would need to either not make an application for either the bulkhead or dock or apply to the zoning board of appeals for relief from the wetlands law. Schwartz has proposed 25 feet of wetlands buffer, but just on one side of the bulkhead.
Schwartz said he would talk with his family and return to the board before making a suggestion.
After that business was closed, Warren suggested the board take a second look at the wetlands law — not to reduce it, but rather to strengthen the code as its stands.
“You are starting to see a theme here where people don’t see they are required to have a 50 foot setback and you are automatically giving them 25 feet,” he said.
The board agreed.
Board member Stephen Clarke, following board member Jeff Peters suggestion, noted the committee should also have a strict planting plan, designating which species of native plants and how big they should be for any buffer system.
The board’s next meeting is on July 8.