The tide seems to have turned against the Town and the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of East Hampton (Trustees) in a recent decision by the Second Department.  In Seaview at Amagansett v, Trustees, the Appellate Division reversed much of a trial court’s 2016 decision and seemed to erode the Trustees’ ability to issue beach permits for 4X4 vehicles to park on an Amagansett beach.

Colliding in a perfect storm are the private property rights of several homeowners association, a 1991 Trustees beach permit regulation and generations of prior uses on approximately 22 acres of beachfront property consisting of 4,000 feet along the Atlantic Ocean in Amagansett commonly known as “Truck Beach.”

In an action pursuant to RPAPL Article 15, the plaintiffs, a group of Amagensett property owners, claimed unencumbered ownership to Truck Beach based on a 1882 deed from the Trustees to Arthur W. Benson (Benson Deed) conveying fee title to approximately 1,000 acres of prime real estate, which included the subject property.  The Benson Deed contained the following reservation:

And also except and reserved to the inhabitants of the Town of East Hampton the right to land fish boats and netts [sic] to spread the netts [sic] on the adjacent sands and care for the fish and material as has been customary heretofore on the South Shore of the Town lying Westerly of these conveyed premises.
The extent and nature of that “fishing” use are at the heart of coveted beach rights running easterly from Napeague Lane to the westerly border of Napeague State Park.  In this case, the Trustees assert jurisdiction over all the “beach” lands of Truck Beach landward of the high tide line.  The East Hampton Town Code defines “beach” to include lands above the mean high water mark as well as the more traditional foreshore land that lies between the high water mark and low water mark.
In 2016, the Supreme Court rejected certain homeowners’ claims and decided in favor of the Trustees’ public ownership of Truck Beach.  In stark contrast to the trial decision, the Appellate Division found that the disputed area landward of the highwater mark was held in fee simple absolute by the homeowners association with a reservation for the inhabitants of East Hampton to only land fishing boats and spread fish nets on Truck Beach.
Finding the reservation contained in the Benson Deed akin to a public use easement, the Appellate Division did not expand the public’s use beyond fishing and fishing related purposes.  As a result, the Trustees are now prohibited from issuing permits for vehicles to park and drive on Truck Beach.
Despite suffering this recent loss, the Trustees have vowed to take any and all necessary steps to regain control of Truck Beach, either by winning the appeal at the Court of Appeals, or proceeding with the ultimate taking of the disputed area through eminent domain.  It remains to be seen which option will result in the retaking of Truck Beach, but one thing is clear, a line has been drawn in the sand of Truck Beach and the tide always returns.