Bid for Fence Stalls Permit Vote; Failing Septic Systems an Issue in 2 Wetlands Cases

Environmental consultant Charles Voorhis, left, and members of the Harbor Committee of Sag Harbor John Parker, Chair Mary Ann Eddy and Will Sharp. Peter Boody photo

The Harbor Committee was expecting to grant Andrew Tilbury’s application for a wetlands permit on Thursday to demolish a house and build a new one with pool and deck at 43 Hempstead Street, property that lies just south of the village’s Havens Beach property.

But Katie Osiecki of East End Land Planning asked the board to hold off and reopen its hearing on the case, which it agreed to do, because Mr. Tilbury wants to change the location of the proposed pool fence to the property line.

The board resisted despite the environmental benefits of the overall plan. After a discussion, it held the hearing open until its December meeting, to give the applicant time to consider an alternative.

Failing cesspools was a theme in two other cases at the committee’s meeting last week. The panel balked at the application of Farrin Cary to build a pool at 132 Glover Street, formerly the property of Brian Halweil, because an old cesspool in the backyard is sitting in groundwater and the applicant’s representative said the owner was unwilling to upgrade it.

The panel pondered whether or not to require the wetlands buffer to be expanded from 25 to 50 feet in the case of Stephen Wolf, who received a wetlands permit in 2016 to build an addition on his property at 100 Redwood Road but never started it and now has a failing septic system.

Also last week, the board appeared ready to approve Jacob J. Kobel’s re-vegetation plan for waterfront property at 15 Long Point Road, where cedars and other trees were illegally removed from a protected wetlands area.

In the case of Andrew Tilbury, Ms. Osiecki told the board that people walking dogs or otherwise rambling at the Havens Beach park property may not realize they’ve entered the backyard of 43 Hempstead Street when they cut over to it from a village right of way that runs along the east side of the Tilbury property. Mr. Tilbury therefore wants the pool fence to be erected along the property line, which would put it within the required wetlands buffer.

To sweeten the deal, he is proposing to expand the size of the proposed wetlands buffer by 500 square feet, add more native plantings and use no fill to construct the pool.

The proposal calls for installing an active nitrogen-reducing septic system and improved drainage system and creating a 50-foot wetlands buffer on a lot that is currently 100-percent lawn.

The fence is a safety as well as privacy issue, Ms. Osiecki said, adding that out of six properties in the neighborhood, five of them have fences and two have “no trespassing” signs. Attorney Andrew Strong told the board that Mr. Tilbury’s insurance carrier had refused to cover the property without a fence on the perimeter. He noted that the village itself has a fence “that goes right through the wetlands,” which are manmade, having been created after a culvert was laid to bring runoff to a drainage ditch, which begins just north 43 Hempstead Street.

Board chairman Mary Ann Eddy said she had spent many years in the insurance industry and found it surprising that an insurance carrier wouldn’t cover the property.

“The fact that other people have fences isn’t really relevant,” she added, noting that the board requires a wetlands buffer for new construction even if neighbors have older houses that predate the wetlands code and “mow right down to the beach.”

Committee member John Parker urged Ms. Osiecki to consider planting a hedge along the property line instead of a fence, which he said would keep people out but not inhibit the movement of wildlife through the wetlands habitat.

“In the eight years I’ve been here,” added the board’s attorney, Denise Schoen, “the board has not permitted a fence on property where there is a buffer.” The panel’s planning consultant, Charles Voorhis, also threw cold water on the fence request. “Environmentally, I’d rather not want to see a fence” in the buffer, he said.

Board members agreed to personally inspect the property for a second time but asked Ms. Osiecki and Mr. Strong to urge Mr. Tilbury to “push back on the insurance thing” with his carrier and to consider a hedge instead of a fence.

“I’m sorry,” Ms. Eddy said to Ms. Osiecki. “I really am sorry.”

“It’s such a great project,” Mr. Parker said.

“I’m not terribly optimistic,” said Mr. Strong of Mr. Tilbury’s reaction.

In the continued public hearing on the Cary application —formerly Halweil, the name under which the application is filed — for a pool at 132 Glover Street, the applicant’s representative, Shannen McCaffrey of Due East Planning told the board, “Our client doesn’t want to upgrade” the septic system “right now” for financial reasons but was willing to put in a vegetative buffer and replace the cesspool that serves a guest cottage whenever it fails. “When it goes it goes,” she promised.

“That could be 50 years,” said Ms. Eddy.

“It’s right in the wetlands. It’s sitting in groundwater,” said Ms. Schoen.

Board members noted that, if the system failed — which some said it has done already — it would have to be replaced with an “innovative-alternative” nitrogen-reducing septic system under the terms of regulations the Village Board may soon adopt. Board members also noted the cesspool was too close to a water well, a situation Mr. Voorhis called “unhealthy conditions.”

“I don’t have a problem with the pool. I do have a concern with the septic being non-operational,” said board member Herbert Sambol.

He commented that outmoded septic systems were “one of the biggest contributors to the water quality issues we have in Sag Harbor.” If the applicant were willing to spend the money to put in a pool, he said, there should be a complimentary investment in water quality.

There are things the board has no authority to require, commented Mr. Parker, “but there are things we cannot allow.”

Moreover, if the board allowed the pool to be installed, “it precludes the ability” of the applicant to install an innovative nitrogen-reducing septic system, Ms. Schoen said. She told representative that, if her client was “still reticent to deal with the septic system in the backyard, ask her [the planner] to demonstrate how an upgrade could take place in the future” if a pool were installed in the yard’s limited space.

Board members tabled the application for further discussion next month and urged Ms. McCaffrey to tell Ms. Cary to look into the subsidies being offered by the town, county and state for the installation of nitrogen-reducing septic systems.

A septic system also proved to be an issue in the case of Stephen Wolf’s application for a second-floor addition of 900 square feet at 100 Redwood Road that would not change the house footprint.

The board granted the application in January of 2016, but the addition was never built and the permit has lapsed. A 25-foot vegetative buffer already exists on the property due to an early wetlands permit; the 2016 permit requires a 50-foot buffer.

“The whole rub” is the owners don’t want to have to create the additional 25 feet of buffer, said Matt Ivans of Suffolk Environmental Consulting, because it would take away room away from the area available for Mr. Wolf’s recreation with grandchildren in the yard. In exchange for not having to install a larger buffer, Mr. Wolf was willing to install an alternative nitrogen-reducing septic system, Mr. Ivan said.

But after Mr. Ivans commented that the property’s septic system has to be pumped out every month, Ms. Eddy commented “he has a failing system.”

Even “if he doesn’t do anything” that requires a wetlands permit, “he will be required to upgrade” the septic system, noted Mr. Parker, after the Village Board adopts it’s a proposed law that will require upgraded “I/A” systems for new construction and whenever old systems fail and must be replaced.

The board held over the application until its meeting next month so board members can visit the property.

In the Jacob J. Kobel case, the board closed its hearing and asked Mr. Voorhis to prepare a decision in favor of granting the application next month. According to Mr. Voorhis’s written review of the application, the revegetation plan is required because trees and brush were “pruned, thinned and cleared without the requisite approvals.” The plan, prepared by Tim Rumph of Araiys Design, calls for replacing them and planting native fescue.

He commented at the hearing that the case was before the board “because the owner was badly behaved.” He noted a case was pending in the village Justice Court on the wetlands violation.

“The court wants to know what you guys thought,” Mr. Bennett told the panel. He said the court had adjourned the case until the Harbor Committee approves the revegetation plan.

The .92-acre property, which Mr. Voorhis called a “spectacular site,” contains a one-story single-family house and is bordered by Ligonnee Creek. The property is in a trust and is used by “three of four members of the family,” attorney John Bennett told the board.

In other business on November 15, the panel opened its hearing on the application of 36 Fordham Holdings to build a 13-by-14-by-f-foot pool and patio at the northwest corner of the existing house and install drywells at 36 Fordham Street, property bounded on the southwest side by Ligonnee Creek. Attorney Bruce Bronster is listed as a contact in the wetlands permit application file at the Building Department. The property is currently listed for sale.

After a discussion, the case was held over to the December meeting.

On behalf of the applicant, attorney Brian DeSesa told the board the patio around the pool complies with zoning setbacks. The property covers .84 acre, “one of the largest lots in the village,” he said. A dedicated vegetative buffer will cover 10,323 square feet or about a quarter acre, he said, adding that would 50-percent larger than many lots in the village. Also, nearly 1,000 square feet near a garage will be revegetated.

According to Mr. Voorhis’s written assessment of the application, “structural setbacks” will be “substantially less than those required by the village code,” which requires a 75-foot setback from wetlands boundaries. The proposed saltwater pool will be built within the wetlands buffer, he wrote.

He said at the meeting that the plan was an “effort by the applicant to encroach into the setback area to obtain the pool.” The issue for the board to decide, he added, is whether or not the offsetting benefits are adequate to offset the pool that encroaches into the buffer area.”

A neighbor, citing “serious environmental concerns,” wrote the board asking that the case be held over to give him time to review it. He cited a New York State Natural Heritage Program report that found the area could contain several endangered or threatened species including amphibians, dragonflies and vascular plants.