Revision of shoreline setback rules goes back to the drawing board

Fishers Island Sound. Photo Credit: Jane T. Ahrens

Changes to the town code adopted in 2015 had ‘unintended consequences’, including making rules intended for properties on bluffs applying to properties on creeks.

February 20, 2017

An effort to clarify town code provisions governing setbacks from water bodies is going back to the drawing board after a public hearing last week.

The town is attempting to fix a code revision undertaken in late 2015 that had some unintended consequences, Councilwoman Jill Doherty said at the outset of Tuesday’s public hearing.

The 2015 code changes applied to bodies of water the town board didn’t intend to affect, including every creek in the town, Doherty said. The proposed revisions aired last week were offered to limit application of the setback requirements to properties on the L.I. Sound, Fishers Island Sound, Block Island Sound, Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay.

The new revisions were also intended to clarify the difference between a “bluff” and a “bank” and generally clean up the code and update it, said Doherty, who served as a town trustee prior to being elected councilwoman.

“When we made the changes the words bluff and bank were made interchangeable,” Supervisor Scott Russell added. “It was a mistake we made that we felt put undue pressure on property owners.”

But practitioners who help property owners navigate the permit system in town hall told the board that the changes didn’t go far enough to clarify the applicable rules for waterfront landowners. Engineering and environmental consultants and an attorney asked the board to do more, pointing out additional terms that required definitions and suggesting other changes that would clarify its terms and make appeals to the ZBA less frequent.

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