• Home Home

Unanticipated fallout forces billionaire to demolish beachside home crumbling into the sea: 'There's absolutely nothing we can do'

Sternlicht is just the latest homeowner to have their multimillion-dollar estate threatened by erosion.

Sternlicht is just the latest homeowner to have their multimillion-dollar estate threatened by erosion.

Photo Credit: iStock

Waterfront properties are perks enjoyed by those who can afford them, but no amount of money can prevent disastrous situations caused by erosion.

What's happening?

As reported by Forbes earlier this year, billionaire investor Barry Sternlicht was forced to seek permission for a full emergency demolition of his beachfront property in Nantucket, Massachusetts, because of coastal erosion. Nantucket's Historic District Commission unanimously approved the decision.

Sternlicht, who has an estimated net worth of $3.8 billion, per Forbes, purchased the two adjacent properties that totaled 1.8 acres along Cisco Beach in 2016 and 2019 for a total of over $2.8 million. The summer house, which was built on the property in 1995, had to endure numerous disasters.

Vanity Fair reported in 2020 that Hurricanes Paulette and Teddy wiped out 60 feet of land from Sternlicht's property. The house has stood on steel girders known as "cribbing" since then, and with nowhere left to move the home as erosion continued, demolishing it was the last resort.

"There were really no options because all the land was eroded," Sternlicht's architect, Matt MacEachern, told the HDC in March, per The Real Deal. "We have talked to a number of different companies to try [to] move the structure and they told us it's just not possible because of the location, so we're before you today to ask for an emergency demolition."

Why is this important?

Coastal erosion is a significant issue affecting shorelines around the world, and it can be caused by a variety of factors. The Real Deal noted that "stronger, more frequent storms and rising sea levels [mean] more beaches and cliffs are washing away, and taking prime real estate with them."

Sternlicht is just the latest homeowner to have their multimillion-dollar estate threatened by erosion. In Jupiter, Florida, severe storms eroded the properties of Grammy Award-nominated country musician Kid Rock and Conair heiress Babe Rizzuto, per Forbes

Several celebrity homes along Malibu Beach, including those of director Steven Spielberg and actors Dustin Hoffman and Pierce Brosnan, were threatened by winter storms in California. According to The Real Deal, the issue has also affected Dana Point, California, and Fire Island, New York.

Forbes noted that Sternlicht's properties "have been mostly carved out due to erosion in recent years, with the southern end of the two lots forming the intertidal zone between the Atlantic [Ocean] and the beach, and only a sliver of vegetated land left on the northern half of the parcels." The ongoing issue of climate change makes coastal erosion an inevitability.

"There's absolutely nothing we can do in the long run to hold back the Atlantic Ocean," Gary Griggs, an authority on coastal erosion at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told The Real Deal earlier this year.

What's being done about this?

Little can be done to curb coastal erosion, but that hasn't stopped many from trying. Forbes reported that billionaire Amos Hostetter Jr. and a group of his neighbors pooled over $10 million for "a major erosion-control project." However, "that system has faced heavy pushback from environmentalists over its upkeep and potential effects to neighboring properties."

In some areas, traditional methods such as concrete barriers and rock walls have failed to slow down erosion, prompting innovative solutions including the "sand motor" approach, which involves building out one section of the coast with a large amount of sand that naturally redistributes over time. 

This method, pioneered in the Netherlands and recently implemented in West Africa, aims to provide a cost-effective, long-term, eco-friendly solution to protect vulnerable shorelines.

Join our free newsletter for easy tips to save more, waste less, and help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider