TIVERTON — A one-acre piece of public land at the south end of High Hill Road — which gives access to a south-facing Sakonnet River beach — is at the center of a dispute pitting neighborhood property owners against other visitors to the land.
The dispute has also raised the questions of whether nearly the entire southern length of High Hill Road, except for the north end near Fogland, should be open to public parking.
The Tiverton Open Space Commission (TOSC) resolved the issue of access to the open space land and its beach in favor of the neighbors nearby residents on Monday night June 17. It approved a management plan for the property that eliminates any provision for parking, effectively limiting beach access across the land to those within walking distance.
Earlier drafts of the plan provided parking for two cars — presumably along High Hill Road. “Parking for a couple of cars would be accommodated,” the draft language read, that despite signs on the road that indicate no parking.
Underscoring the decision not to provide for parking, language in the plan about “management objectives” was also changed.
A prior objective — to “maintain the parcel for public access to the Sakonnet shoreline” — was modified. The final adopted version eliminated the word “access,” and said instead that the objective was to “manage public use at a level appropriate to its size and fragile habitat.”
Neighbors who had attended TOSC meetings every month since March objected to provisions in the plan, including the parking language.
“A couple of neighbors expressed concerns about the parking, about trash, and monitoring, and some ideas were broached, but not adopted, ” said TOSC Chairman Brian Janes, explaining the rationale for eliminating the two-car parking language. “We wanted to get other management activities approved without the additional complication of parking.”
Among parking solutions were suggestions to require Tiverton stickers, or limit the number of hours a car can park there (four hours, or from sunrise to sunset, etc.).
Trash was a problem linked to beach access. “We’re tired of cleaning the beach and everything,” said Maria Pedro, 77, who lives across the road from the land. “If people start to come, they’re going to leave things.” She did not support the management plan. “I prefer things to be left the way they are now.”
Other neighbors could not be reached or were reluctant to comment.
The lot was given “in perpetuity” as “open space area” to the Town of Tiverton in 1988 by the Joseph P. Chaves family A boulder carved with those words lies on the property, and the land is known on maps as the Chaves Lot.
The debate about parking there has kicked the door open to the larger issue about parking elsewhere north along High Hill Road, and whether parking (as signs seem to indicate) can be prohibited at all along the road.
A town ordinance (Sec. 78-74) prohibits parking on High Hill Road for 500 feet south of its intersection with Fogland Road, half a mile to the north of the Chaves Lot. There are the expected signs prohibiting parking in that 500 foot northernmost section of the road.
But at the southern end of the road, half a mile from Fogland, there are also two faded No Parking signs nailed on utility poles alongside the Chaves Lot. And between the south end of High Hill Road, and the 500 foot no-parking zone near Fogland — about 0.4 miles — there are at least seven additional No Parking signs.
“If they’re not in the ordinance, they have no value and cannot be enforced,” said Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey of the no parking signs outside the zone. Provisions of state law apply regarding parking near intersections, fire hydrants, and during snow removal, he said. But as for other local no parking restrictions, “whatever the council adopts, we will enforce,” he said.
After driving the length of High Hill Road Monday, and doing a count of the no parking signs, Public Works Director Stephen Berlucchi said, “If they’re up there illegally they should be taken down.” But unless he receives a written complaint from a Tiverton resident, Mr. Berlucchi said, he cannot remove them.
The concern about parking and beach access has much to do with the neighborhood where the Chaves Lot is located. It’s at the point where the south end of High Hill Road dead-ends at the Sakonnet River. The beach there faces south, and is paralleled by Shore Road, with which High Hill Road intersects.
The beachfront neighborhood is riddled with private roads, Mr. Berlucchi said, or at least many that are claimed to be private. The private/public character of many neighborhood roads and property lines is unresolved, he said.
The south end of the Chaves Lot is mowed, and people can cross it — it’s public land open to any member of the public — to get to the beach beyond.
When the vote was taken last Monday night, the TOSC unanimously approved the management plan, which included numerous other provisions — the introduction of indigenous species of plants, protection of ground-nesting birds by no spring mowing of the grass, no trails, and control of invasive plants,all of which were believed to safeguard the open space.
Mr. Janes said multiflora rose, bittersweet vine, and autumn olive are among the invasive species. The TOSC plan is to limit the eradication of invasives to 25 percent of the vegetative cover in any one growing season. It also plans to re-introduce indigenous species, such as northern bayberry, beach plum, elderberry, and groundsel tree.
The approved management will now be submitted to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) for its review.