Beach proposal worries Westport neighbors

Westport Beach

Westport BeachThey didn’t get to ask their questions or voice their opinions, but an overflow crowd of mostly Beach Avenue neighbors let Selectmen know last week that they are concerned about possible plans to convert a stretch of shoreline west of the harbor entrance into the newest public town beach.

Selectmen made no move to acquire the beach Monday but instead asked the Beach Committee to report back on possibilities for the 1.44-acre lot whose address is listed as Lot 8, Map 89 (0 Beach Avenue) on town property maps. It sits east of the Elephant Rock Club and some believe it would be a good beach for disabled or older bathers since it could offer easy access to parking.

Specifically, Selectmen tasked the Beach Committee with describing how it might operate such a beach and how parking and public safety would be dealt with.

Until such questions are answered, Selectmen told the audience that they are not prepared to enter into talks with lot owner Brian Corey, who has offered to sell the lot to the town for an undisclosed amount for such a use.

Some who live nearby  say the creation of a public beach there would lead to problems for this quiet neighborhood with narrow lanes.

“The area in question is way too small for public use. Spill-over to private property is inevitable. How will this be policed?” asked Krister Adams in a letter to Shorelines last week. He also raised concerns about trash, vandalism, noise, parking, traffic and the town costs involved.

“Is there even a demand (market) for a beach at this location and at this size?” he wrote.

Others have voiced concern that making this beach public would inevitably lead to trespassing at the nearby private Elephant Rock Beach.

Beach Commission members have said the notion of a beach that is easier to get to than the present town beach, access to which requires hiking a path across the dunes, is worth exploring.

But member Jeff Bull said that, after spending considerable time visiting the Beach Avenue property, he has some reservations.

Parts of the beach are covered by rocks and seaweed which might make it less than ideal for sunbathing and swimming. He said he and others wonder “how many people would go there” regularly.

To make the plan work, Beach Commission members have suggested opening Beach Road, which is presently gated, to the public and allowing parking along one side. That might create space for around 35 cars.

The issue of better beach access for disabled or older bathers has arisen repeatedly over the years.

In 2011, resident Thomas Hancock said that the town beach, while beautiful, is difficult for many to get to.

“I see families struggling to go up over the dunes,” he said. “I see seniors, though very few, struggling to go through there.”

Cherry and Webb also has limited space and parking, he said. East Beach, too, is hard to access because of its rocky terrain.

Elaine Ostroff, chairwoman of the town’s Commission on Disability, told Selectmen recently that the Beach Avenue ovation could be “the best beach in town” for those with disabilities because it is so close to potential parking places.

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