Billionaire businessman Ronald Lauder has returned to the town Zoning Board of Appeals with a request to rebuild an oceanfront house that was destroyed during Superstorm Sandy and is what one town planner called “a ticking time bomb” for being felled again.
The property owned by Mr. Lauder has a Beach Lane address but actually sits more than 1,000 feet west, on a narrow strip of sand and dunes that separates Wainscott Pond from the ocean. The previous house on the property had been threatened by the ocean for years, leading to a fraught struggle to hold back the waves with a wall of giant sandbags. But when Sandy’s towering waves rushed ashore in October 2012, they swept over the sandbags and the house with little resistance, scattering the splintered remains of the home and its contents all the way to the north end of the pond.
Two years after first proposing to rebuild the house, Mr. Lauder’s attorney, Richard Hammer, returned earlier this month with a pared down proposal that reduced the size of the proposed house from 1,490 square feet to 1,290 square feet and trimmed back the decking from more than 900 feet to 550. The single-story house would be built atop pilings, lifting it above expected flood waters. The application requests permission to build a wood walkway over the dunes to the beach.
As part of the application, the Lauders are pledging to pay for the maintenance of the dunes along the property, which stretches most of the way across the southern end of the pond, both in the interests of protecting the new home as well as slowing storm waves from surging into the pond again.
“My client’s family calls this part of Wainscott their home and will do the very best they can to protect the pond,” Mr. Hammer said at the January 12 ZBA meeting.
Even with a robust dune, the history of the particular stretch of shoreline portends an inevitability that one day waves will again lap at the doorstep of whatever is rebuilt, the zoning board was told.
“I don’t think there is a more vulnerable oceanfront property in the town of East Hampton,” town planner Brian Frank told zoning board members. “The application is thoughtful and well placed … but this is a ticking time bomb.”
“Everything we know about coastal planning tells you that this is a horrible lot to redevelop,” Mr. Frank added.
Mr. Hammer said the elevating of the house on pilings and FEMA complaint construction would allow it to survive even another over-wash by storm waves and said that with the diligent bolstering of the dunes, the Lauder family hopes it will endure.
“We think it is going to be durable enough or the family wouldn’t invest the money to build it,” he said.