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Legal Action Authorized On Dune Restoration At Baron Estate

Originally Posted: December 30, 2008

Aaron Boyd

  |   7 Comments · Print Article

East Hampton's Director of Natural Resources Larry Penny alleged the destruction of a portion of the Atlantic Double Dune system adjacent to the property owned by billionaire investor Ron Baron in November. The Town Board authorized the Town Attorney's office to pursue any and all legal action necessary to see the restoration of dune habitat. Photos by Aaron Boyd

East Hampton - 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.

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Guest (anybody) from somewhere on the South Fork says::
maybe McGinteeis behind this, maybe he thinks Baron will agree to fund the cost overruns of those alleged historic houses soon to become Town Hall.
Apr 21, 2009 10:50 pm

Guest (osprey) from east hampton says::
Once again, someone with exhorbitant amounts of money comes to Town and destroys what was here eons before he was born. Sounds like unless they remove the wall piece by piece and not with heavy equipment it will do more irreparable harm than it already has done. Why don't they strike a deal with Baron in that he purchase some of the eco-sensitive land further down on 27 on the Napeague Stretch or some other vital and beautiful natural area that is undeveloped - about the same square footage or double that he has destroyed and donate it to Community Preservation in lieu of his blatant disregard for this natural setting? That would be logical and acceptable to me.
Apr 7, 2009 8:26 am

Guest (Logical1) from Riverhead NY says::
Relative to beach lover not understanding what the hold up is on pressing litigation, you need to understand the Town's (and Village's) capability to actually bring suit and make progress. Baron can spend more to defend himself than the Town has alotted for their yearly legal budget, and he can keep the Town embroiled in this for years with no progress. If the Town wants any positive action, they had better go to Baron with hat in hand and kiss his a**, or they'll spend more in legal fees that it would cost to restore every dune on L.I..... On top of all that, the Town and its officials are woefully incompetent when it comes to actually proving that any wrongdoing took place, as has been the case for years......
Feb 27, 2009 4:04 pm

Guest (beach lover) from Amagansett says::
I think our local government, such as it is, cannot or will not handle this matter appropriately. Only Judge Cahill has had the sense to make Baron come and answer why he thinks it is okay to break the law. His local attorneys Ackerman and Brown should know local law but think money will solve the problem after the fact. Why is this story not on page one in every paper? On this site? Everywhere? And it looks like the most he will be charged is $8,000. Outrageous. They are going to say the dune they destroyed was from farmers plowing dirt to level fields. His refusal to take down the wall is telling the rest of us who must obey the law, he is above the rules and he can't be bothered by trivial East Hampton rules and regulations.
Feb 23, 2009 12:00 am

Guest (beach lover) from Amagansett says::
I can't understand what the hold up is on this matter. What is the Town Attorney's office afraid of? And this also deals with E.H. Village on the other parcel. This gentleman and his legal representation don't care and it seems the Village and Town officials don't care either. Who do we appeal to to fix this?
Jan 24, 2009 1:54 pm

Guest (DUNE SURFER) from AMAGANSETT says::
Jan 14, 2009 7:29 pm

Guest (Curious) from East Hampton says::
I'd like to know which town officials told Baron's construction crew that no permits were needed. Perhaps they asked someone in the senior citizens nutrition program. The building, planning, natural resources, zoning or any other relevant department would have seen the need for a permit immediately. Even a cursory reading of the town code shows the need for a permit. What about his lawyers, surveyors, engineers, etc.? They didn't know a permit was necessary? Nonsense, especially since they all seem to be local. I'd also like to know why removing the wall would cause more damage than its installation? Somebody is blowing smoke. If it is necessary to go to Court, the town should do it without delay. Mr. Baron should be required to restore the dune to exactly the way it was before he violated it. Remove the wall entirely and restore the wetlands.
Jan 6, 2009 6:32 am


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