Plan Dies for Kayak Dock in Creek; Panel Resists Pool Within Wetlands Setback

Rendering shows reduction in red of proposed kayak dock in Otter Pond Creek.

The plan to put the first dock in Otter Pond Creek died last week in the face of continuing resistance from the Harbor Committee of Sag Harbor after months of review, debate and discussion.

Attorney Alex Kriegsman, representing Claxton House, LLC, agreed at the panel’s March 5 meeting to withdraw the proposal for a 24-foot kayak and paddleboard dock on the south side of the creek, just west of the Main Street culvert at 8 John Street.

He made the move after board members indicated that — with the dock no longer included in the project — they were ready to grant a wetlands permit for the rest of their plan, which includes renovating the house with a two-story addition and putting in pool, spa and cabana.

The abrupt change in plans came after a long debate among board members, Mr. Kriegsman, property owner Bryan Graybill and their planning consultant Danna Cuneo about the environmental impact on wetlands of the proposed dock and alternative methods of raising and lowering kayaks to and from the water.

In the case of the kayak dock on Otter Pond Creek, Ms. Cunneo opened the discussion by reporting that alternatives had been investigated, including a davit system; a set of stairs on the existing bulkhead; and a floating dock — and that “the best alternative is the fixed dock itself” because it would “very little impact” on the shoreline and the creek. It would require less clearing than a davit system and it would keep people from trampling wetlands, she said.

Because of concerns about its impact on the view of the creek from Main Street, she reported that the applicants had agreed to shorten the dock slightly from 25.5 to 24 feet.

But board members remained adamantly opposed. Lilee Fell and Will Sharp cited the village’s LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan), which requires the committee to seek ways to “restore the natural resources of Sag Harbor,” as Mr. Sharp put it, and protect historic views and the character of the waterfront, as Ms. Fell explained. Resident Kate Plumb, an audience member, reminded the board it was the only agency with the goal and authority to uphold the LWRP.

Mr. Sharp added that allowing one dock in the creek will encourage more. “We’re trying to protect one little resource we have there,” he said. With multiple docks in it, the creek “will not be what it is today.”

“I’m not sure we have to accommodate the ability to readily kayak off this property,” Mary Ann Eddy said after expressing skepticism — as did other members — that anyone would really use the dock to lower and lift kayaks and paddleboards four feet to and from the water.

“I don’t really buy the argument you have to be this far out to access the water,” panel member John Parker said. “If it were for a power boat, that’s one thing. You don’t need it for the recreational use you’re alleging.”

It came as a surprise when Mr. Graybill took the podium to tell board members that he and his partner also wanted to use the dock to jump on and off “tenders” owned by friends coming for a visit. “Our main concern” is protecting the bed of mussels at the shoreline and the creek’s role as a “bird sanctuary,” he said.

That use had never been mentioned in the months the application has been pending before the board, Mr. Parker noted. “Paddleboards and kayaks is what your consultant said” the dock would be used for, he commented. “This is the first time I’ve heard you want to get power boats to that dock.”

“In a normal situation, a dock is a good thing,” said the board’s environmental consultant, Charles Voorhis, because it keeps people off the wetlands. But “I tend to agree with John. You’re not going to get into a kayak from this structure.” As for power boat, he said he was concerned about their propwash disturbing the bottom in the shallow water of the creek.

It was after Mr. Graybill and his partner told they board they had all the required permits for the rest of their renovation plan and were eager to begin work. After further discussion, Mr. Voorhis said the board could authorize him to prepare an approval resolution to be voted on April 2 if the dock proposal were withdrawn and a new plan were submitted to the committee without it. Mr. Kriegsman agreed that his clients would do so.

Also at the March 5 committee meeting, board members resisted a plan to install a swimming pool within the required 75-foot setback from wetlands at 44 John Street. They also formally approved the pending applications of Sara Colleton to put in a saltwater pool 75 feet from wetlands at 52 John Street and replace the site’s old septic system with a new I/A nitrogen-reducing system; the Sag Harbor Yacht Club to replace its bulkhead on Bay Street; and the Sag Harbor Yacht Yards for a continuation of its prior permit to maintenance dredge about 10,000 square feet of bottom off 53 Bay Street.

The proposed 31-foot-long swimming pool 38 feet from wetlands instead of the required 75 proved to be the sticking point for the committee when it held a public hearing on Scott Landau and Melissa Wilson’s application for a wetlands permit to build a two-story addition 95 feet from wetlands and install a pool at 44 John Street on Upper Sag Harbor Cove.

Even though the couple plan to install an I/A nitrogen-reducing septic system farther away from wetlands than the existing cesspool, and create a wetlands buffer of indigenous vegetation, members of the committee could not get past a pool that close to the water.

They tabled the application to their April 2 meeting after the applicants agreed to relocate the pool close to the house, swapping its location with the proposed I/A septic system.

“I just don’t think we can approve this pool,” chair Mary Ann Eddy told the couple’s consultant, Laurie Wiltshire of Landing Planning Services in Wainscott, during a 45-minute long debate and discussion.

“You could start off with a blank sheet and come up with a pool” that would meet setback requirements “if you push the septic” toward a small outbuilding in the yard, Ms. Eddy said.

When Ms. Wiltshire noted there was a pool inside the required setback next door that was approved by the Harbor Committee in 2008, Ms. Eddy said, “The world has changed since 2008. It’s changed a lot and we stick to the setbacks.” The village adopted the current wetlands code in 2015. She noted the proposed pool was “one of the biggest we’ve seen.”

That includes requiring a vegetative buffer averaging 50 feet from wetlands, not the 25 feet proposed by the applicants, Ms. Eddy said.

“I don’t see why it’s a problem,” Ms. Wiltshire said, who argued that the creation of a 25-foot vegetative buffer and the installation of an I/A septic system made for an environmental benefit that far outweighed the impact of a saltwater pool 38 feet from the shore.

But the two applicants came to the podium and, after agreeing to widen the proposed vegetative buffer, also agreed with Ms. Wiltshire to change the plan by swapping the pool location with the proposed septic system even though it puts the system closer to wetlands.