- The East Hampton Town Board has authorized the Town Attorney's office to move forward with any and all legal action necessary in an action against billionaire investor Ron Baron for disturbances to the Atlantic
Double Dune system which may have resulted from the construction of a wall along the southern side of his property at 260 Further Lane.
East Hampton's Director of Natural Resources Larry Penny first noticed the alleged destruction of a portion of the dune system in November while looking at before and after aerial photos of the site. He subsequently brought the matter to the attention of town officials.
Baron's construction crews spoke with town officials prior to beginning work
on the retaining wall and maintain that they were told that no permits would
be necessary. According to the town code, a natural resources special
permit is needed for any work being done in the proximity of a dune system.
The property, situated at 260 Further Lane, was formerly owned by the de Menil family and was the original site of the historic buildings currently being renovated as part of the Historic Town Hall Complex on Pantigo Road.
Baron purchased the 40-acre property for $103 million in 2007, marking the largest residential real estate deal in U.S. history, and began construction on a home and guest house, which included a retaining wall along the southern border of the property, which buffers a 3,000-year-old double dune system that stretches across 200 acres from Old Beach Lane to Atlantic Avenue.
According to Penny, Baron would have had to apply for a natural resources special permit before beginning any work near the dunes, as the Town of East Hampton has made a special effort to protect dune habitats since the inception of the Natural Resources Department in 1984.
Baron has asserted that his construction crews asked town officials the right questions regarding any permits that would be necessary and were said to have been told that none were needed, according to attorney Eric Brown of the East Hampton law firm Ackerman, O'Brien, Pachman and Brown. "The town feels that in order to put [the retaining wall] in they must have disturbed something," Brown reasoned.
Town officials have been meeting with Baron's legal representation since the November discovery, however the town has not been happy with the rate of progress. "We've been working with them, but the response wasn't as quick as we would have liked," Deputy Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato contended, asserting that the town has given Baron ample opportunity to fix the violation. However, the wall has yet to be removed and the habitat has not yet been restored. "If we have to, we'll kick and scream," Scarlato asserted, however "we may see some progress shortly," she added.
The two parties agreed to some diminution of the wall and replanting of vegetation, Brown explained, though they differ on the extent and method of the removal process.
Baron has hired engineers in order to put together a plan to reduce the size of the wall and restore the dunes, according to Brown, though he admitted that the holiday season has slowed the analysis. Baron's attorneys will be meeting with the town again this week at which time they hope to arrive at a workable solution that suits all of the parties involved.
A 3,000-year-old double dune system stretches across 200 acres from Old Beach Lane to Atlantic Avenue.
The construction crews do not want to create more harm to the beach ecosystem by removing the wall, Brown asserted, maintaining that removing the retaining wall now without a plan could cause more damage than its original installment had.
"Essentially the impacts of the wall in place are minor," Brown contended, claiming that it gives protection to the dune area from the run-off and construction going on above.
If the removal plan does not pass muster, the town will move ahead with legal action to certify that a violation of the town code was committed on the property, whereupon Baron will have 90 days to remove the wall and revegetate the property, otherwise he will not be able to apply for any new permits from the town.
The town does not possess the authority to mandate remediation, Scarlato explained, which would force them to bring a lawsuit against Baron to the Riverhead Supreme Court if the violation is not rectified in a timely manner.
"It's possible we may reach an impasse," Brown contended, calling a full-blown legal battle the "nuclear option," as Baron will likely bring in a retinue of lawyers from New York City
to fight the case. Brown was hopeful that it will not come to that, citing the post
-New Year's meeting as the best chance for an amicable resolution.