The approval by the Cape Charles Wetlands and Coastal Sand Dune Board for a riprap revetment, a breakwater, groin wall, a private open-pile pier, and a covered boathouse along the beachfront property at the corner of Washington and Bay avenues (bottle beach) may open the door for wholesale reconstruction of the North end of the beach. This application for the three lots is part of a larger development plan for two homes to be constructed at this location.
This property has been known to locals as bottle beach and had previously been utilized as part of the ferry system that serviced the lower end of the Eastern Shore. Some citizens have concerns, such as lost osprey nesting areas, the obstructed view, losing some of the old ferry dock poles, etc.
The property owner had previously submitted an application to the Town which was approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals at their meeting on September 13, 2022, to grant an exception to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act of the Cape Charles Zoning Ordinance to allow for two residential dwelling units. The one condition is that there be no further development of a family dwelling or residence at this location.
The Schlegel Family sold the property in 1931 and eventually reacquired the lots and utilized the property as a commercial harbor. In the late 1970’s, a portion of the land was sold for the construction of the Seabreeze Apartments which were constructed in 1983. The Schlegel Family continued to own the property until it was recently sold to the Hainsworths once they were able to secure the Exception approval regarding the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA) from the Town.
It is expected that the VMRC will approve most, if not all of the project. However, Town staff told the Mirror that due to the beachfront master planning effort that is set to begin very soon, applying for that level of infrastructure right now would be premature.
The general application is in order, and the approval by the Wetlands Board was appropriate. That is not to say there are no problems.
One of the biggest concerns is the continued use of breakwaters—not just with this application, but all along the coastline of the Chesapeake Bay. We know the VMRC is addicted to this approach, however, the long-term effectiveness and sustainability are questionable.
One of the significant drawbacks of breakwaters is their impact on natural sediment transport. They can trap sand and other sediments on their upwind side, leading to beach depletion on the downwind side. This can result in the need for costly beach nourishment programs in other areas. If the folks at Butlers Bluff are wondering why their properties are falling into the bay, look no further than the breakwaters that litter the coast to their north.
Breakwaters can disrupt local ecosystems by altering water circulation patterns, affecting habitats, and potentially leading to increased turbidity. This can harm seafloor ecosystems, particularly those that rely on light penetration for photosynthesis.
While breakwaters are effective against moderate wave conditions, they may be less reliable during extreme weather events like hurricanes or tsunamis. In some cases, these structures can even exacerbate damage by deflecting waves onto the shoreline. A case in point is the odd breakwater just north of the Seabreeze Apartments. There are a series of cone-shaped objects meant to protect the property just north of Seabreeze. At low tide, you can see how storms have jostled their positions.
Long-term, Breakwaters require ongoing maintenance and repair due to the wear and tear caused by wave action, storms, and corrosion. These costs can add up over time. Will owners be willing to shell out for continued maintenance?
The reality is that this is now private property, and the owners should be allowed to pursue some form of development. To be sure, the project at hand is not child’s play and walks the razor’s edge in terms of individual property rights and public access. A fair and effective method of erosion control and shoreline stabilization is required, however, is this approach the most appropriate? Whether the application, including the pier, boat house, etc. is simpatico to the Town’s long-term goals for the north end is something that may still need to be negotiated.