The Town of Westport and East Beach Improvement Association (EBIA) have agreed to settle a suit brought against the town by the EBIA nearly two years ago, which claimed the select board, town …
The Town of Westport and East Beach Improvement Association (EBIA) have agreed to settle a suit brought against the town by the EBIA nearly two years ago, which claimed the select board, town administrator and other agents exceeded their authority in regulating the seasonal community of beachfront trailers.
"The agreement is done and it's ready to go, and it has legal authority," select board member Richard Brewer, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the town with fellow board member Ann Boxler, said.
Though signed, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the select board, but the board is expected to do so at its meeting this coming Monday.
Though all the details are unclear, the agreement appears to yield to at least some of the EBIA's claims, which were filed in Bristol County Superior Court in April 2021. The suit alleged that Westport exceeded its authority when the town in 2020 began enforcing regulations, passed 11 years earlier, that among other things require lot owners at East Beach to remove "permanent" items besides trailers and campers — including picnic tables, sheds, fences and the like — or face the possible loss of their permits for the coming year.
Though those regulations had been on the books for more than a decade, they had not been enforced since shortly after they were passed, when the EBIA contested them in a previous lawsuit.
The 2021 suit came after EBIA president Kevin Curt and nearly 100 other lot owners received letters from former town administrator Tim King stating that those regulations would be enforced prior to the start of the 2021 season, and that lot owners could face loss of permits or other penalties if they did not clear everything off their lots.
"These regulations blindsided us," Curt said at the time. "We said, 'Why is this here?' We didn't get any answers."
In the suit, the EBIA claimed that "the regulations and the town's other enforcement actions ... exceed the Board of Selectmen's authority," that the Town of Westport, select board and town administrator were "usurping the authority of other, independent town boards and commissions (as) the defendants are not authorized to determine violations of the State Building Code or the Wetlands Protection Act."
The suit also alleged that town regulations regarding the beach community constitute "an invalid exercise of zoning powers," as "none of their provisions applies to any other barrier beach in Westport. Property owners on the Town's other barrier beaches, and those who still have houses on East Beach, keep decks, sheds, and other items on their lots without any need for a permit."
"The Town has effectively created a new zone for the Each Beach district. It has done so without any of the procedures required by the zoning act."
Finally, EBIA argued that the association was entitled to a court order compelling the town to renew seasonal trailer permits to members who apply for a renewal.
Board, town administrator to step aside
At a discussion on the matter last Monday, Brewer said the settlement agreement includes language that clearly states who will have future authority over the issuance of yearly permits to property owners at East Beach, and it's not the board nor the town administrator.
"We recognize the authority of the conservation commission and they, or he (the conservation officer) is going to be more involved than he ever was before," Brewer said. "That's clearly in the agreement and that's something we all agreed to. So that way one of us, including the town administrator, whoever he or she may be down the road, can't go off in a different direction. We have a protocol in place — we must adhere to it."
"If the conservation commission is approving something and we for some arbitrary reason say we don't approve, we don't have that authority. We've given that authority to the conservation commission."
At last week's meeting, Curt thanked the board for working with the EBIA, and said real dialog and communication was one of the association's main goals in filing the suit in the first place.
The agreement, he said, is "an opportunity to at least find some common ground and create dialog between both parties, something that I think we were looking for before this all started."
Now, "we're all on the same page. This basically gives us an outline (on regulation of beach trailer permits) that both parties can follow and go to and work toward to get agreement on certain issues."
After board members and Curt spoke on the agreement, the board unanimously voted to allow the return of trailers at the area on Saturday, April 29.
"Enjoy the season, if it ever warms up enough," board chairwoman Shana Shufelt said.