Lawyer Tells Harbor Committee: Think Twice Before Granting Pool Permit

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Ligonee Creek as it runs along the backyard of 36 Fordham Road, at right. Peter Boody Photo

The Harbor Committee seemed ready to grant a wetlands permit to allow a swimming pool 55 feet from Ligonee Creek on Monday when attorney Jeff Bragman, representing a homeowner from nearby Hildreth Street, called on the board to think again.

After a long presentation and discussion, the board tabled the application until its next meeting on January 14.

If the board granted a permit for property at 36 Fordham Road, an .84-acre parcel that borders Ligonee Creek, Mr. Bragman said, it would be abetting the “death by a thousand cuts” of the Creek and the Long Pond Greenbelt, which Sag Harbor Cove with Long Pond.

Charging that the applicant’s attorney, Brian DeSesa, was merely distracting the board with the promise of 100 square feet more vegetative wetlands buffer than the wetlands code requires for the parcel, Mr. Bragman said, “Inch by inch Ligonnee Creek is being compromised.”

Attorney Jeff Bragman addressing the Harbor Committee ton Monday, December 10. Peter Boody photo

Noting the proposed pool will be about 55 feet and the patio 57 feet from the wetlands boundary when the code requires a 75-foot setback, Mr. Bragman asked, “Why is that an okay thing to do? We don’t think this application in any way meets the purpose of wetlands preservation.”

The application, which has been pending before the Harbor Committee for months, was filed by 36 Fordham Holdings LLC. Attorney Bruce Bronster is listed as a contact in the application on file at the Building Department.

The proposal calls for a 14-by-32-foot pool and patio at the northwest corner of the existing house and the installation of drywells. An existing septic system in the front yard will be replaced with an “innovative alternative” or IA nitrogen-reducing septic system. Ligonee Creek borders the property on the southwest side.

Mr. DeSesa told the board Monday that the latest plan calls for a vegetative wetlands buffer of 13,881 square feet, about 100 feet more than required by the wetlands code. Some 2,511 square feet of what is now open lawn will be re-vegetated so, altogether, two-thirds of the property will be “covenanted and protected” from development or treatment with lawn chemicals, Mr. DeSesa said.

Representing neighbor Phillip Susswein of 11 Hildreth Street, Mr. Bragman argued that the proposed saltwater pool will still require toxic chlorine, and that the new dry wells planned for the property will not be “a tremendous source of mitigation” of the pool’s impact. “The terrain is at a high elevation. Everything that happens will head into Ligonnee Creek,” he said “This is not a lot in the middle of nowhere … It borders that Creek!”

Mr. Bragman noted that the parcel is for sale with on-line advertising copy indicating a pool permit will be obtained by summer. Allowing the applicant “to make a few extra bucks” on a sale because of a pool permit “is a lot less important than the point of the legislation,” which is intended to protect wetlands, he said.

“This is a case where the answer should be ‘no,” Mr. Bragman argued, calling on the board to exercise its authority to protect the environment.

Mr. Bragman called on environmental consultant Frank Piccininni to highlight for the board the unique environmental features of the creek and the connected Long Pond Greenbelt. Mr. Piccininni called the area a “globally rare ecosystem” and an “incredibly rare habitat” for endangered and threatened animal, insect and plant species including tiger salamanders.

The board’s environmental consultant, Charles Voorhis, noted that the proposal calls for environmental improvements on the property “greater than what’s there.” He called Mr. Bragman’s and Mr. Piccininni’s vision of an environmental threat from the proposal “a little bit exaggerated.”

“I’m still having trouble with this little corner at the end of Fordham Street having an impact” on the environmental health of the whole area, Mr. Voorhis said.

When Mr. Voorhis noted that the DEC itself had issued a permit for the pool, despite its own Natural Heritage Program report detailing the rare species found in the vicinity of the creek and Long Pond, Mr. Piccininni said the DEC’s staff people are “drastically underfunded and don’t have a chance to get out” into the field.

As the discussion wound down, board chair Mary Ann Eddie said, “I’m a little overwhelmed.” The board’s attorney Denise Schoen suggested that the board give Mr. Voorhis “an opportunity to look at the minutes and address the issues” raised by Mr. Bragman and Mr. Piccininni “in writing.”

Board member John Parker commented — after noting there’s plenty of good swimming in the bays and the oceans — “I don’t know why people have a pool.”

Pending Approvals

In other business Monday, the Harbor Committee took steps to grant wetlands permits in three cases.

They included the application of 10 Cove Road LLC for what attorney Brian DeSesa has called the second largest single-family residential property in the village, a 1.75-acre tract forming a peninsula into Upper Sag Harbor Cove.

The proposed backyard at 10 Cove Road. Courtesy Ed Hollander

Aired at the October meeting of the board, and the subject of a public hearing Monday at which no one spoke in opposition, the proposal will increase the wetlands buffer and dramatically reduce the lawn, replacing it with a small area of fescue and a large area of native plantings that will not require irrigation, pesticides or fertilizer. A saltwater pool requiring no chlorine will replace the existing pool and a new nitrogen-reducing septic system will replace the existing passive system.

The large existing house, the irrigated and chemically treated lawn and the chlorinated pool are “what caused a large part of the water quality problems we have here,” landscape architect Edmund Hollander told the board in October. The new design will be “an ecologically appropriate landscape” and “the right thing to do for the water quality of the bay,” he said then. He called it “a fully non-toxic landscape.”

In the case of Farrin Cary, who is seeking to build a pool at 132 Glover Street, property formerly owned by Brian Halweil, the board on Monday agreed to have Mr. Voorhis draft an approval to be considered at a future meeting. When they discussed the case last month, the board members did not realize the property had public water service and that the wells shown on a survey were geothermal wells, not water wells.

At the board’s request, the applicant’s representative, Susan Brierley of Due East Planning, submitted a sketch to show how an IA nitrogen-reducing septic system would fit on the property when the current system needs to be replaced. Kit would rely on a pressurized line to move wastewater to a leaching area at the front of the parcel.

The board agreed to grant a wetlands permit sought by Andrew Tilburg for a new house, pool, fence and patio at 43 Hempstead Street after he abandoned his last-minute proposal aired last month to run the pool fence through the required wetlands buffer along his property line, according to his representative, Katie Osiecki of East End Land Planning. Mr. Voorhis called plans for the property “a tremendous improvement” because they call for installing an IA nitrogen-reducing septic system, an improved drainage system and a 50-foot wetlands buffer on a lot that is currently 100-percent lawn.

Also on Monday, the board approved plans to re-vegetate the regulated area within 75 feet of wetlands at the property of Jacob J. Kobel at 15 Long Point Road which was pruned, thinned or cleared without permission.

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