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Officials tout plan to save Montauk businesses from rising seas

Erosion along an artificial dune made from sandbags

Erosion along an artificial dune made from sandbags in front of the Royal Atlantic Beach Resort on South Emerson Avenue in Montauk on March 7. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A development rights transfer program was offered Tuesday as a viable way to move Montauk businesses inland to protect them and the downtown from rising sea levels.

Planning consultants working with East Hampton Town discussed broad outlines for the plan at a work session, and said it would allow the downtown to retain its vibrancy and density, while moving it away from an eroding shoreline.

The town would have to identify a “sending zone” and a “receiving zone,” said Peter Flinker of Dodson & Flinker, the firm working with the town and community members to create studies of the town’s five hamlets. A public hearing will be scheduled before the studies can be incorporated into the town’s comprehensive plan.

“We want to stay pretty much the same, so you need a zero-sum mechanism, which is what TDR is,” Flinker said, using an acronym for transfer of development rights.

He likened a transfer program to a sort of bank of development rights, where property owners would be compensated for the rights sold to the town and then have the opportunity to purchase credits to develop land elsewhere.

Flinker noted that municipalities, including those on the East End, have instituted a similar concept for farmland protection, though it is not clear whether it has been done in an oceanfront resort community.

Dodson & Flinker’s recommendation, the most recent version of which was released in February, calls for a new resort/mixed-use corridor along Essex Street and a shift of the downtown center inland toward the intersection with Montauk Highway, which is at a higher elevation.

The report does not identify specific Montauk businesses that would need to move farther inland, but a map of areas prone to flooding includes properties along South Emerson Avenue, a stretch that features several motels.

Erosion is a continuing and controversial topic in Montauk. After superstorm Sandy in October 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers developed a plan to build an artificial dune by burying 14,000 sandbags on the beach. Severe storms this past winter uncovered the sandbags and the town had to replenish the beach at a cost of $1,050,000.

Town officials acknowledged Tuesday that while some of the recommendations in the study, such as traffic fixes, could be immediately implemented, the Montauk plan will likely require five to 10 years to carry out.

“This is a discussion we need to engage in now,” said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc.

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