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Out-of-town parking at Westbrook’s public beaches—and at the Town Hall—has some residents petitioning for a change. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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Long-term concerns about beach parking combined with July 4 traffic and safety concerns lit the fuse for Westbrook residents unhappy with the way the town is managing the situation. About 25 residents turned up for the July 9 Westbrook Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting to address concerns pertaining to West Beach, one of the town’s two public beaches.
Most who attended the meeting, according to Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop, live in the West Beach neighborhood.
The immediate concern expressed at the meeting was the July 4 celebration. Both Hammonassett Beach and Rocky Neck state parks filled to capacity and were shut down by 9 or 10 a.m. that morning, said Westbrook Resident Trooper Wayne Buck.
“People were looking for other places to go,” Buck said. “Inevitably, it doesn’t take much to Google Westbrook beaches and find out what’s there. We had overflow from other towns and state parks. The weather was beautiful.
“We had to shut our beach parking down early, as well,” he continued. “The overflow went to the Town Hall.”
Parking at Town Hall by non-residents is another contentious issue, and one that a number of residents specifically came to the meeting to address. Some were unhappy that the discussion was somewhat derailed by a focus on July 4, said Gail Colby, a West Beach resident.
The meeting agenda item, however, was “Discussion related to resident concerns relative to West Beach,” and was not specific to parking issues.
Parking Pros and Cons
The non-resident parking fee at West Beach is $20 for the day. Some residents have noticed beach-goers parking at Town Hall and walking the quarter mile to the beach. And some, like Colby, believe that the root of the problem is online information that presents Town Hall parking as a way to skirt parking fees.
The BOS was presented with letters offering suggested resolutions to residents’ concerns about parking, as well as a petition signed by 139 residents, stating the following:
“I am a Westbrook resident. I am signing this petition to request that the town of Westbrook, Connecticut arranges to remove from all websites and publications any statemants [sic] referring to persons parking vehicles at the Town Hall for access to Westbrook beaches. We believe persons seeking beach parking should be directed to the town beach on Seaside Ave.
“Also, it should be a policy that employees at the town beach do not direct persons to park at the Town Hall.
“Those of us who live near the beach are most affected by persons who drive from many towns and, park at the town hall. Often they arrive with wagons full of items and some have had all day parties on the beach with so many people and items that there is little room for those of us who pay taxes here. Some of these persons litter our area or fill our beach trash cans which are not meant to be used for bulk trash in one day. No other area in town has this problem. We believe homeowners in other parts of town would strongly object if this were happening in their neighborhood.”
“There were some good recommendations made,” Bishop said by telephone after the meeting, adding that the BOS has “some homework assignments.”
One of these is to consider staffing the Town Hall parking lot on weekends. As it stands, however, anyone is free to park at Town Hall. On occasion, Bishop said, the Elks Club calls for permission to use the lot for overflow parking for its events; the lot is also used for many other town events, as parking in the town center is otherwise limited.
West Beach residents sometimes have their friends or family use the Town Hall parking lot, as many properties in the neighborhood don’t have space for additional cars, Bishop explained. Residents who are having a gathering and require parking for a group in the municipal lot are asked to notify Town Hall in advance.
“We don’t want to punish our residents,” Bishop said. “They can have their friends and relatives over. There’s not much room to park [at some properties]. I don’t think the town should be opposed to that.”
More About the 4th
Buck addressed meeting attendees regarding the 4th of July revelries.
“He got called up there right off the bat and he spent a good hour answering questions,” said Michael Oryl, a former Westbrook constable and chairman of the Police Advisory Board/Traffic Authority.
Buck said that parking and traffic was the worst he had seen in his 11 years working in Westbrook, according to Oryl.
Traffic was so congested on July 4, it caused serious safety concerns, said Bishop.
“It was backed all the way to Route 1 from Seaside Avenue,” he said.
Had there been a fire in the area, firetrucks would have been severely hindered, or even prevented, from reaching their destination.
“This is a risk that has to be addressed for the future,” Bishop said.
And then there are the fireworks, most of which are illegal in Connecticut. Enforcement is extremely difficult, however, according to Oryl.
“The problem I see, even when I was working [as a Westbrook constable], is if you go down and arrest these people, I don’t know how many you’d have to take down to the police barracks,” Oryl said. “You’d have to put them on a bus.”
Buck explained at the BOS meeting that when the police stop one person from setting off fireworks, it deters people nearby, Oryl said.
“But when you go down the road, they’ll start up again,” he said.
“People don’t realize” how dangerous fireworks are, Oryl continued, noting that even sparklers, which are legal in Connecticut are hazards. “When that is burning, it is really hot. If you get burned by that, you’re going to have a problem.”
One 4th of July at a Westbrook beach community, a Roman candle landed in a young child’s lap and burned him, said Oryl, and he had to be taken immediately to the hospital.
“The next year, the insurance company told [the community] they couldn’t have fireworks. If they did, they would lose their insurance. Without insurance, they couldn’t even go swimming,” said Oryl.
“I know a lot of people come from out of the area, out of state, bring their fireworks in and they [set them] off on the beach,” he continued. “I don’t know how troopers or constables deal with that.”
One of the recommendations that came up at the meeting was for the town to pass an ordinance banning fireworks, Bishop said.
“People like Trooper Buck and the constables are going to have to enforce this,” he said.
If such an ordinance is passed, the town will have to make sure citizens are “aware and informed.”
“We’re almost compelled to [pass an ordinance banning fireworks],” Bishop said, “because fireworks are illegal.”
On July 11, the town’s attorney, Michael Wells, wrote a letter to Westbrook Town Clerk Joan Angelini stating that the petition provided by residents to the BOS about parking issues “is not in perfect form as required by Connecticut General Statutes Section 7-9. The petition does not present an ordinance or resolution to be considered at a town meeting. The petition is, at best, a list of grievances and a suggestion related to policy for employees...and does not require any action on your part.”
The BOS still intends to look into the issues, come up with recommendations, and present a progress report to the public at its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 3 p.m., Bishop said.
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