Law Committee Chair Vincent Danzi offered an overview of the effect of land subdivision on riparian rights – namely, the effect of making larger tracts of land smaller and what effect that has on the riparian rights that run with the waterfront parcel. NY is #13 for coastline frontage but #30 in terms of land area in the US. This is attributed to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound, Great Lakes, Canals, etc.
Navigable Water is below the low-tide area, i.e. land that is always submerged. It is subject to Jus Publicum – the right of ownership of real property that is held in trust by the government for public use.
Land in between the high-water line and low tide line is subject to the right of the public to use.
The shoreline itself is owned by the fee owner and this riparian land gives the owner the right to use property beyond the riparian land in ways which facilitate the enhanced access the waterfront owner has. Therefore landowners along the shoreline have more rights than the general public, such as the right to build a dock. The right of access over adjacent riparian lands in private ownership is vested exclusively in the owners of those riparian lands “The right of access comprehends, ‘necessarily and justly, Whatever is needed for the complete and innocent enjoyment of that right.”
Owners of landlocked lots following a subdivision of larger waterfront parcels lose riparian rights unless there is an express reservation or grant. Some cases reviewed:
Durham v. Ingrassia, 105 Misc.2d 191 (1980).
When a waterfront parcel was subdivided with certain reservations made in the subdivision deeds, the court held that the landlocked parcel retained riparian rights.
Town of Hempstead v. Oceanside Small Craft Marina, 64 Misc.2d 4 (1970).
The Marina had a floating dock extending over land that the Town of Hempstead owns. The court found that to the extent the floating dock was incidental to its special access to the water, the marina had the right to use the town-owned property to stabilize the docks without paying anything to the town because the marina was a riparian owner. The court also held that the portion of the floating dock that comprised a separate dock-rental business was not a natural and incidental use and that they needed to pay the town for that right.