Residents criticize parking rules at McCorrie Point, Portsmouth

Town assures them nothing has been done to curtail enjoyment of beach

By Jim McGaw
Posted 7/10/19

PORTSMOUTH — Carolann Ferrell Silvia is a fifth generation McCorrie Point resident who says her family has been using the neighborhood beach for nearly 100 years.

“We’ve …

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Residents criticize parking rules at McCorrie Point, Portsmouth

Town assures them nothing has been done to curtail enjoyment of beach

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Carolann Ferrell Silvia is a fifth generation McCorrie Point resident who says her family has been using the neighborhood beach for nearly 100 years.

“We’ve always been able to use the beach, as it’s in our backyard,” she said, adding that many neighbors have “deeded beach rights” to access the waterfront.

But things have changed over the past several years, Ms. Silvia and some of her neighbors told the Town Council Monday night. Police are cracking down not only on out-of-towners whom most neighbors blame for the littering and noise, but local residents themselves, they claimed.

During a nighttime visit to the beach in her car last week, Ms. Silvia said, a police officer told her she couldn’t keep the vehicle parked there after 9 p.m. — despite the fact that many neighbors in the area have left their cars well past that hour for years. 

That’s because police are now strictly enforcing a town ordinance, which bans parking on town-owned properties from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., due to complaints from some residents about vehicles leaving or arriving at the beach late at night.

Residents were assured Monday, however, that no one is trying to take the beach, acquired by the town from a resident in 1995, away from them. 

“The town is doing nothing to curtail enjoyment of the beach,” said Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. The town is merely enforcing the nighttime parking ban “the same as any other town-owned” property,” he said.

“By enforcing this ordinance, we hope to keep violators off the beach,” the administrator said.

Furthermore, Mr. Rainer said, the town looked at the neighborhood’s property deeds and found that most plots have no mention of specific “beach rights.” In fact, they’re typical of most deeds in that they specifically highlight the right to access McCorrie Lane, the street that runs down from East Main Road and straight onto the beach, he said.

“That was necessary because the road was a private dirt lane at the time most of the deeds were written, and it was the only way in and out of the neighborhood,” Mr. Rainer said. “To make the argument that we’re doing something to infringe upon the rights of beachgoers is false.”

In any event, no one’s asking residents to furnish their deeds, he said, and the extra attention the beach is getting from police seems to be doing the trick.

“This is the first time in decades that we’ve received no complaints about the beach for a span of over four weeks,” Mr. Rainer said. 

Support ‘the way it’s been’

Still, several residents said they were concerned that the stepped-up enforcement has restricted their access to the beach. Sal Carceller, who noted it’s too far to walk to the beach from his Lepes Road home, said he feels there’s an “undertone brewing in this town” that’s trying to keep residents from going down to the shoreline.

Said Pat Lyons Silvia, who grew up on McCorrie Point, “If you take away what I consider my home, I don’t know what I would do.”

Added another resident, Jane Roggero, “The people behind me are supporters of the way it’s been, not what it’s become. It’s not as bad as what you’re making it out to be.”

Confusion over signs

One of the signs at the entrance of the beach has also caused some confusion because it states that both motor vehicles “and pedestrians” are prohibited after 9 p.m.

Ms. Silvia asked the council: If she takes her car off the beach at 9 p.m. but returns later by foot, as police have told her is permissible, isn’t she a pedestrian at that point? 

Mr. Rainer assured her that despite what the sign and the town ordinance say, police have no intention of booting local residents from the beach if they arrived there by foot and aren’t causing a disturbance.

Ms. Silvia also said finding a parking spot near the beach at night is a challenge, and clogging McCorrie Lane with parked cars would make it difficult for emergency vehicles to pass.

She said she recently parked near the beach and a neighbor yelled at her to get off his property. “He told me he has firearms and will make sure my tires are flat the next time I park there,” Ms. Silvia said. 

The neighborhood unrest has picked up, say some residents, who blamed a handful of relatively new homeowners in the area for complaining about behavior on the beach. One of them is Trish Dettlinger, who moved to McCorrie Lane last year and acknowledged she started a petition as a “good-faith effort” to seek a solution to the problems on the beach. She said she wanted to avoid a repeat of any earlier “hostilities” that led to a raucous community meeting at Town Hall in June 2016.

Her suggestions were met with “vitriol and venom,” Ms. Dettlinger said, adding that she was cast as a “newbie” and was met with a “full-on assault on me, my character and my family.” 

Several residents, such as Wesley Echols of Wampanoag Drive, said they were grateful to the town for the extra police presence. “This problem has been festering and gone unchecked for too long,” he said.

Ideas shared

Although no action was taken Monday night (the matter was on the agenda for discussion only), some ideas were discussed on how to alleviate some of the problems at the beach.

Fire Chief Michael Ford, for example, shared a plan the town has been considering: Establishing a section of the beach for four or five campfire areas that could be reserved by residents. That would allow the town to limit the number of fires burning, and let officials know where any hot coals — they often burn through the night — are located so people don’t get injured, he said.

Several residents voiced approval of the idea, which Chief Ford said would be limited to McCorrie Beach if approved.

Some residents said they wish something could be done about the increase in visitors outside the local area to the beach. Mr. Echols said “non-resident fishermen and their families have been taking over large portions of the beach at the expense of residents.”

Mr. Carceller said he also notices lots of people coming to the beach in vehicles with Massachusetts license plates, usually there to fish. He suggested they get checked for fishing licenses. “There’s a lot more fishing going on down there today than there was five years ago,” said Mr. Carceller.

Council member Daniela Abbott said residents should contact the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to enforce fishing permits, as that falls outside the town’s jurisdiction.

Some residents also suggested a special permit with a fee for non-residents. Town officials, however, said the town doesn’t operate the beach like it does Sandy Point. “Because this is town land, it doesn’t matter where you live. You just have to be a resident of earth,” Mr. Rainer said.

Council President Kevin Aguiar said council members will need to speak further with the police and fire departments and town staff to determine whether the town ordinance needs to be amended with regards to McCorrie Point.

“We’re not trying to pick on McCorrie Point. We’re just trying to have a level playing field on how we enforce the ordinance,” he said. “Anything we do, if we’re changing ordinances, there’s a public process. We’re not going to do anything overnight.”

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.