It’s been over a month since Hurricane Sandy hit, and the Southold Town Trustees have pushed through nearly 100 permits to allow residents to fix structures damaged or destroyed by the mega storm.
But in recent days, permitting issues have come up for those with damaged bulkheads that were built in the early 1980s and were never properly permitted for the Southold Town Board of Trustees, an entity that did not have jurisdiction over Peconic Bay until 1992. And those residents with unpermitted structures have to go through a lengthy approval process from the federal to the town level — and final approval might be weeks away, creating anxiety as winter storm season approaches.
During a morning work session of the Southold Town Board on Tuesday, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell asked trustees Dave Bergen, Bob Ghosio and James King how the permitting process could move more quickly in the here and now.
“We understand that people need to go through the process, but how can we make this more expeditious for those who need to make repairs in this unique situation?” he said. “Many people don’t even understand that they have a non-permitted structure, and when they hear that phrase it sounds like they’ve done something wrong, but they haven’t.”
Russell suggested that the trustees shoot for scheduling two meetings in January for a chance a approve applications for people who could not get everything together in November — surveys, permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation — and to address more of these unpermitted cases as they come in. And they will be slower to come in as people realize what their situation is, Russell said.
“A big part of this is education and outreach so people understand what the issue is — how can we better address these circumstances?” the supervisor said.
Southold’s criteria for emergency applications under Chapter 275 currently reads as follows:
• Structures built from 1991 to the present, with a valid Trustee permit, accompanied by photos/plans should submit an emergency application and will be allowed to rebuild in place up to current Code standards.
• Structures built before 1991 with a valid Trustee permit, accompanied by photos/plans should submit an emergency application, will be reviewed by at least one Trustee, and will be allowed to rebuild in place, up to current Code standards.
• Structures build before 1991 with no permit must go through the regular permit application process.
• All non-protective structures that require a CEHA permit must go through the regular permit process under Chapter 11.
• LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Program) review is exempted on emergency actions that are “immediately necessary on a temporary basis.” LWRP review for other applications will be expedited.
For Trustee Bob Ghosio, Southold’s current definition of “emergency permit” needs to change.
“This comes up after every big storm — people want to rebuild what they had prior to the event, but right now, the emergency permit is really there just so they can put rocks up and other temporary measure for protection,” Ghosio said. “But they don’t want to waste the money on temporary fix — they want to address the issue now, fix it, and move on, which I totally understand.”
Councilman William Ruland agreed that if the Trustee’s process is as user friendly as possible then “you’re doing all you can do — but if it stands in the way of something logical, then the code needs to be changed,” he said.
Ruland added that being more proactive about communicating with and educating the public on what they need to do after a storm would also help — he mentioned the consistent radio advertisements that the Southampton Trustees used immediately after Hurricane Sandy.
“I wasn’t a big fan in that they were mostly telling people what they couldn’t do, but on the flipside, they’re there to help people do what they need to do,” Ruland said.
The Trustees agreed to schedule an extra meeting in January — possibly the first Wednesday of the month — if they find that their agenda is too full for their regular monthly meeting, normally held on the third Wednesday. But Trustee Dave Bergen said that he felt by the time of the regular meeting, most applications with true emergency situations should be in the pipeline.
"The challenge moving forward is having to work within current code, when everyone will want to put everything back the way it was — decks, platforms, beach cabanas," Bergen said. "I think that's causing a lot of anxiety out there, but that's why we have a public hearing process."
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