Opposition To Dock In Front of Wetlands Emerges in North Haven

An aerial photo presented by attorney Dennis Downes shows the existing house at 59 Mashomack Drive. The proposed dock would be located off the beach in the foreground, 40 feet from neighbor Susan Dusenberry’s property line. Her house is the first one to the right of the one at 59 Mashomack.

Representing a neighbor opposing North Haven resident Larry Baum’s plan to build a dock on what now looks like a deserted beach in front of a preserved marsh in North Haven, attorney Dennis Downes told the Village Board of Trustees on May 12 that the depth of water at the end of the proposed structure fails to meet the village’s 2.5-foot requirement at mean low tide.

He said the 160-foot-long structure, including its 100-foot length from the mean-low-water line, would have to be extended 27 feet to meet the 2.5-foot depth contour, according to a survey prepared for his client by Michael Hemmer based on June, 2019, hydrological data.
The village code prohibits docks that extend more than 100 feet from mean low water.

The issue was a key reason Mayor Jeff Sander gave for asking the board to carry over the May 12 hearing on the permit application until next month’s Village Board meeting on June 9 at 5 p.m. That session most likely will be conducted digitally via Zoom — as was the May 12 session — because of the state’s coronavirus lockdown. Meanwhile, the village will have its own engineer investigate, the mayor said.

Representing neighbor Susan Dusenberry, whose view of the now empty beach in front of her house would be affected by the dock, Mr. Downes told the board that littoral drift carrying sand southward in front of the beach had changed the depths shown in the survey provided by the applicant.

The dock proposal, which already has state DEC and Army Corps of Engineers approval, requires a permit from the board. More than 50 North Haven residents, some responding to an anonymous email campaign, as well as Peconic Baykeeper Peter Topping, have gone on record opposing the application, saying it would block the beach and endanger nearby wetlands. Three people spoke in opposition at the Zoom hearing, which lasted an hour and 20 minutes, and two more asked questions.

The writer or writers of the anonymous email campaign — titled “Help Us Save the Wetlands” — declined an emailed request to identify themselves for the record.
The survey for Mr. Baum, which is based on 2018 data, was prepared by surveyor David Saskas, who is a North Haven village trustee himself. He recused himself from the case at the start of the public hearing because he has worked for the applicant.

Mr. Downes noted he was not claiming the survey was in error or inaccurate, only that the elevations on the bay bottom had changed over time. In addition to arguing the dock failed to meet code requirements, he said it would block the beach; that it could cause scouring of the beach and bay bottom by interfering with littoral drift; that storms could easily wreck it; and that Mr. Baum had practical alternatives for keeping a boat at nearby marinas or mooring it offshore.

“I don’t understand where the science comes from” to support Mr. Downes’s assertions, commented Jack Costello of Costello Marine, the dock contractor. He had built many docks on the shoreline to the north of the proposed Baum dock, he said, and they’d had no effect on littoral draft and had successfully withstood harsh weather.

“A lot of statements he made were not based on science,” Mr. Costello said.

As the mayor noted, “This is a very unique property” because it bends sharply eastward after descending from its narrow street frontage at 59 Mashomack Drive — where Mr. Baum plans to tear down the existing house and build a new structure — to run adjacent to the 60-acre Loveridge Preserve, a marsh and pond system protected by a conservation easement given by the Loveridge family in 1993 to the Peconic Land Trust.

Seemingly cutting off the bay frontage from the upland at 59 Mashomack Drive, the property’s bend puts the proposed dock “in front of the neighbor’s property,” on the empty beach separating Shelter Island Sound from the Loveridge wetlands, the mayor noted.
“The applicant should be required to provide evidence on what’s on the bottom at the end of the proposed dock,” Mr. Sander commented.

As of May 12, the Peconic Land Trust had not submitted comments for the record and did not have a representative attending the Zoom hearing, which had up to 37 participants at one point.

Mr. Baum’s application for small yard and sky plane variances to tear down the existence structure, known as “The Lighthouse,” and build a new house at 59 Mashomack Drive, was first heard before the North Haven Board of Zoning Appeals in April and was scheduled to be continued at its May 12 session. Also opposed by Ms. Dusenberry and neighbors who responded to a similar email campaign, it was postponed at the applicant’s request until June, Village Clerk-Treasurer Eileen Tuohy said on May 12.