Sunday, July 17, 2005

Greenwich Point Beach Isn't as Nice as Greenwich Seems to Think

People who don't live in Greenwich and who want to occasionally use the town's beaches to reach the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound have long known that the town's beach admission policies for non-residents are designed to keep them out.

Now, thanks to the Greenwich Time, they know the policy is working and they know that at least one elected official in Greenwich is happy about it.

They also know that if you dare enter a Greenwich beach without paying, the police will treat you like public enemy number one and set up road block to stop you from getting out -- even if you're a 75-year-old man on a bike.

Greenwich used to have a policy of not letting anyone on its beaches who didn't live in town. Then Brenden Leydon of Stamford sued and won, and the courts told Greenwich that it could no longer keep non-residents out.

So Greenwich officials decided they'd charge $25 a day to park at the beach and $10 a person to enter. For a family of five, that's obviously $75 for a day at the beach. As if that's not onerous enough, you have to buy your permits to enter and park at Town Hall, which is not near any of the beaches. So even if you feel like laying out $75, you have to deal with downtown traffic and a Town Hall bureaucrat. Who'd bother?

The Greenwich Time looked at the non-resident attendance and found that the number of people who would bother has been declining annually: 11,081 out of towners in 2002, 8,200 in 2003, and 7,740 last year.

A Selectman with the name Peter Crumbine could not be happier:

"I think things have turned out better than expected. There has not been a flood of people wanting to get into our beach."

The beach policies so happily accepts have prompted at least one case of civil disobedience. From the Greenwich Time:

On June 8, [Paul] Kempner, a 75-year-old retiree, disobeyed a gatekeeper's orders to the pay the fee and entered the beach, police said, who were waiting for the cyclist at the beach's entrance when he exited.

"The police car was there blocking the road like I was some thief," said Kempner, who said he would plead not guilty when he appears in state Superior Court in Stamford on Aug. 24 on the infraction, which carries a $92 fine.

Kempner said he would use the incident to shed light on the town's beach fees, which he described as a costly impediment to his free speech rights.

"It's just prohibitive price-wise," he said. "For me to go in every day is $70 every week. I can't do that.

Here's how a few other Connecticut towns handle beach fees for out of towners (all this is from the local governments' web sites):

West Haven: Admission is free but parking for non-residents is available for a $10 daily fee at Morse Park and Sandy Point, while Oak Street, Rock Street and Bradley Point require a $10 daily fee or a $5 fee after 4 p.m.

Milford: Non Residents pay $5 per day to the parking attendant at either Gulf Beach or Walnut Beach.

Stratford: Beach Stickers for non-residents are $100/season or $10/day for Long Beach, and $5.00 for a daily pass at Short Beach.

Westport: $15 per car on weekdays and $30 on weekends for Compo.

The Greenwich Time story implies that Kempner might sue. A lawyer used the term "grudging compliance" to characterize Greenwich's reaction to its loss in court. I hope Kempner does sue and I hope he wins.

But Crumbine and the others who want to keep unelect out might think about another reason out-of-town attendance has fallen: Greenwich Point isn't that great.

True, it's nice in winter -- in fact that photo at the top of this page was taken there on New Year's Day. But I've also been to Compo in Westport, and the beach there is better than the one at Greenwich Point. And Westport residents don't mind sharing it with the unwashed out of towners.


Anonymous Rick said...

I was at a picnic at Greenwich Point Park this weekend. It cost me $10 (as a guest of a Greenwich resident) which I have no problem with, since I'm using a facility that is maintained by Greenwich residents' tax dollars.

While I'm generally sympathetic to public access, I don't think it would be a good idea to encourage use of Greenwich Point Park by non-residents. The reason is that the roads leading up to the park couldn't handle much more traffic than they do now. The park is in a residential neighborhood, with narrow, winding streets. It would severely alter the characteristics of the neighborhood to change the infrastructure to handle large crowds.
That said, I think there are a host of shore sites that are better suited for public access.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous B. Leydon is my hero said...

Your comment is illogical. If the concern is over traffic, why not allow ALL (resident and non-resident) cyclists and pedestrians into the park, just like Stamford and most if not all other U.S. municipalities? In fact, this is not a traffic issue. It is about snobbishness and dislike/fear of “outsiders” (i.e. non-residents).

The law is clear: all U.S. citizens have a 1st amendment (free speech/free expression) right to use public parks. Greenwich is exposing itself to serious risks should courts find the Town has willfully violated the Constitutional rights of non-Greenwich residents.

Damages could potentially be severe, especially since Greenwich lost the Leydon case several years back. (How much is your 1st amendment right worth? Multiply this by all non-residents denied the right to exercise their 1st Amendment rights in Greenwich parks.)

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is an article I found summarizing the Leydon case. I include a few excerpts. This is indeed a constitutional rights issue.

Beach Access Protected by the First Amendment

The third round of the highly publicized legal battle over public access to Connecticut beaches has been decided in favor of the public. The Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the Connecticut Appellate Court decision that a Greenwich ordinance restricting access to a municipally owned park was unenforceable. The challenged ordinance allowed only town residents access to beach-park areas. But, unlike the Appellate decision which relied heavily on the citizens’ right to use the beach under the Public Trust Doctrine, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the decision on the federal and state constitutional principles of the First Amendment….

The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Court decision that state residents may have access to the municipal park and beach. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court chose not to address this dispute based on the public trust doctrine but rather focused almost exclusively on the First Amendment argument that the beach was a traditional public forum. The Court decided that nonresident access to the beach was protected by the right of freedom of expression given to all citizens.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Rick said...

B. Leydon may be your hero, but before you call my comment illogical, I recommend that you check out the access roads to Greenwich Point Park. Almost any influx of additional traffic would snarl the roads leading to the beach, and would probably prevent some of the residents (who pay the taxes for the beach) from using it.

Typically, beaches that are open to the public have good access roads. For example, Playland Beach in Rye has a four-lane road leading to it. Sherwood Island in Westport, which also has a four-lane road access, is also a public beach. I use these examples because Rye and Westport are also relatively affluent communities. On the other hand, both Rye and Westport have beaches that aren't open to the public, and the access roads to them are through residential neighborhoods where large volumes of traffic would create a hardship for local residents. Your comment about "snobbishness" is your opinion and you're entitled to it, but realize that it's your opinion.


8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an Old Greenwich Resident, granted i pay only 20$ for a beach pass, my parents pay thousands of dollars every year in taxes to help the upkeep for the beach so it is only fair that if you want to use and you dont pay taxes in greenwich, you should and i hope will continue to pay 10$/day bike/foot or car(which is 20$ for parking)... it is not fair to residents to have to deal with out of towners trashing our wonderufl park and beach with out payin to have it picked up.. this is only my opinion but living in greenwich for 21 years and living off of shore rd which goes to the beach anymore traffic on that road has cause for major concern, many kids live in my area and there have already been beach related car accidents... if you dont want to pay for our beach DONT COME end of story

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Westporter said...

As a Westport resident, I have to admit that when Greenwich lost the Leyden case, I was concerned Compo would be over-run with out of towners enjoying beaches I pay thousands of dollar in taxes to maintain each year. But Compo is big enough to support all of the out-of-towners, and candidly, there's something pleasant about having lots of people on the beach on a seasonably sunny July day.

I would have been frustrated if the lawsuit that opened all of Connecticut's beaches meant out-of-towners could come for free, but the reasonable $35 a carload actually helps support the beach. Although I was initially against the out-of-town beachcombers, it's really been a win-win.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Buz Off said...

"Our" beach? It's a public beach, and the taxes that came with the property purchase were known at the time of purchase, yes? All privilege no responsibilities?

10:50 AM  

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