Friday, September 12, 2008

Journey to Planet Hamptons

At least once a day, while selecting the news stories I post on Local Liberty Online, I shake my head and ask, "Is this really happening in America?" But giving wider exposure to the tyranny that lurks in America’s backyard, and finding ways to combat it, is what LLO is all about.

Today's believe-it-or-not story comes from The East Hampton Star, out on Long Island, where a man, after being caught by authorities clearing a playing area for his kids, is attempting to atone for his environmental crimes by buying another piece of property and donating it to the city. Because this is the Hamptons, that lot will cost the man nearly $500,000 -- money obviously is no object for the swells living there. But putting that issue aside, the whole situation, as written up by The Star, seems surreal, if not Kafkaesque.

So please join me on a journey to Planet Hamptons, which seems like an alien world from the United States of America we all think we know so well. And don't forget to read the second item, about the new paddleboarding regulations imposed on East Hamptonites.

Read it and weep:

"Greg Weinstein, a resident of Old Orchard Lane in East Hampton who was cited for clearing too much of his two-acre house lot, has offered the East Hampton Town Board a deal so that he can keep the land as is.

Mr. Weinstein bought the property largely the way it is and likes it that way, his attorney, Jeff Bragman, told the board on Tuesday. The lot is in a water recharge zone where the amount of clearing is restricted to protect groundwater. The property now has about a half acre more cleared than allowed. Mr. Bragman said the open area was ideal for Mr. Weinstein’s children. He added that Mr. Weinstein had had a small, additional area cleared for a practice soccer goal for them.

Normally, cases of this kind are resolved in zoning court, and property owners wind up rectifying violations, which in this case would mean replanting. The deal Mr. Weinstein has proposed in order to keep his land the way he prefers is that he would buy a piece of property that the town has been hoping to preserve and make a gift of it.

The proposal, Mr. Bragman said, has already passed muster with the zoning court judge, Lisa Rana, who sees it as a viable settlement to the overclearing court case, the lawyer said, as long as the town board agrees.

Mr. Weinstein has already signed a $490,000 conditional contract to buy the lot that he would give to the town — a 33,000-square-foot parcel off Old Stone Highway in Springs. Mr. Bragman said the land contains wetlands and “has been a thorn in the side of the town and the [zoning board of appeals] for a couple of years” because its owner is pursuing a plan to build a house there.

Mr. Bragman said he had told his client that he could resolve the matter by revegetating the property at a cost of between $10,000 and $20,000 instead of spending hundreds of thousands more.

But, he said, Mr. Weinstein had given him a budget of $500,000 and he had been “cold-calling” owners of properties the town has eyed, particularly those in water recharge zones. The Old Stone Highway property was suggested to him by Larry Penny, the town natural resources director, who had tagged it as an environmentally sensitive site.

Opinions on the town board were mixed, though all agreed to hold a public hearing on the idea.

“What is the special circumstance here?” Councilman Pete Hammerle asked. “Are we saying that the clearing restrictions we have in our town code don’t really matter as much on this lot? A lot of people aren’t going to be able to propose this kind of solution.”

“This is not just a rich guy buying his way out of the problem,” Mr. Bragman told the board. Essentially, he said, “anybody going before the court is going to be buying their way out of the problem,” by spending money to rectify violations, and pay a fine.

It is “legitimate,” Mr. Bragman said, to ask the board to decide, “on balance, over all, does this make environmental sense?”

“I’m suggesting it is worth it to trade about 20,000 square feet of clearing here — that’s probably been cleared for 15 years or so — in exchange for picking up 33,000 square feet of non-clearing on a wetlands property. But also no house, and no septic system, so you’re eliminating a unit of density. On balance, it makes sense,” he said.

Board members expressed some concern about setting a precedent. Such a proposal would not arise often, Mr. Bragman said, “but it is a way of engaging private people who can do this to come in and save the town some preservation dollars.”

“It’s like fees in lieu of the clearing ordinance,” Councilwoman Pat Mansir said, referring to a mechanism by which developers of some commercial property may pay into a fund ostensibly used to buy land for parking instead of providing the parking normally required.

“Had he done the clearing himself, I would say absolutely not,” Town Supervisor Bill McGintee said, citing a situation where “someone who over-cleared then wants to buy their way out of it. But under the circumstances I could be supportive of this,” he said.

John Jilnicki, the acting town attorney, advised against any change to the town code that would officially allow those not in compliance with zoning laws to resolve their cases in ways that would permit them to avoid following the rules. However, he said, exceptions could be made in the context of a settlement of the zoning court case.

Councilman Hammerle remained opposed, but agreed to listen to public opinion about the idea at the hearing. In addition, he pressed the board, “If we could spell out the ‘special circumstances’ parameters as clearly as possible. . . .

So that this doesn’t set a precedent and open a can of worms.”

To Regulate Paddleboards

Stand-up paddleboarders will soon be required to wear life jackets (or other personal flotation devices) while crossing a body of water in East Hampton Town. Near-shore paddlers, or those paddling the boards in the ocean, may continue to do so without them.

Ed Michels, the town’s chief harbormaster, said on Monday that an incident during a paddle last month from Fresh Pond, Amagansett, to Fort Pond Bay, Montauk, led to his department’s decision to define paddleboards as vessels for the purpose of regulating them under the town code. During the cross-bay paddle, the participants spread out, and one paddler fell off his board, was unable to retrieve it, and required help. At another point, a boat came dangerously close to a paddler, Mr. Michels said

The town code says a vessel is any “watercraft (including wind surfboards) or other contrivance used or capable of being used as a means of transportation in water. . . .” The code requires vessel operators to abide by Coast Guard regulations on safety equipment. The stand-up paddleboard is an updated variation of an old, Hawaiian board. They are longer, wider, and thicker than the average longboard used for surfing. Most are made of epoxy-covered foam. Paddles are made of wood or lightweight carbon fiber.

“If you’re on a surfboard and go 100 yards offshore, okay. But if you put a sail on it and head for Connecticut, it’s a vessel,” Mr. Michels said. Mr. Michels said he had discussed the issue with the state boating administrator and Coast Guard officials who agreed with the policy. “If they’re close to the beach, okay. But if they’re out in the open, we’re going to make them come back if they’re not wearing a p.f.d.,” the chief harbormaster said.

Mr. Michels said the p.f.d. did not have to be of the type the Coast Guard calls type one — the most buoyant, usually with a foam composition. The type two, near-shore safety belt or vest used by water skiers would be sufficient, he said."

No comments: