While many residents turn their thoughts to Halloween candy and costumes, Churchill Road resident Kate Meyer has the beach on her mind.
Penfield Beach, specifically, which on Wednesday she told the Parks and Recreation Commission has become too crowded with out-of-towners.
"It has increasingly become less of a family place to go because of the number of people, the amount of garbage, the foul language," Meyer said, "It's truly become a concern."
A real estate agent in town, Meyer said she took her daughter into the women's bathroom at the new Penfield Pavilion "and there was a family of five taking hot showers."
Meyer said she thought only residents of nearby landlocked towns could buy season parking passes for Fairfield's beaches. Commissioner Barbara Rifkin said that was the case before the town purchased Sun Haven, a stretch of shoreline that previously was privately owned, but for several decades has been known as Penfield Beach under town ownership. The beach was purchased with the aid of federal money, Meyer was told, which means the town is required to open it to everyone -- with parking fees charged on either a daily or seasonal basis.
Meyer suggested limiting the number of beach season parking permits sold to nonresidents, and perhaps increasing the cost of those permits. Meyer also said she has seen beachgoers park north of the beach at Sherman School or in a Post Road commercial parking lot and then either walk or get dropped off at the beach.
"If you're talking about people walking onto the beach, this is still the United States," Commissioner Dante Gallucci said.
Chairman Ellery Plotkin said that officials have been told that people without permits park on side streets and then walk or get dropped off at the beaches, but added that there is nothing that can realistically be done about that.
A nonresident beach season parking permit costs $135, and 1,585 were sold in 2012, bringing in $213,975, down from 1,670 in 2011. Daily parking fees for nonresidents at town beaches where it is permitted are $15 on weekdays and $25 on weekends. At Penfield, 4,407 cars paid the daily rate this summer. The number was higher for Jennings Beach, where 9,066 cars paid the daily fee.
The largest number of season parking passes -- 415 -- was sold to Trumbull residents, while 226 were sold to Easton residents. Bridgeport residents bought 209 parking stickers.
"I'm trying to stay away from the dog whistle that's going off here," Gallucci said, referring to some inferences that might be drawn from Meyer's remarks.
He questioned how she knew, for instance, where the family she saw using the showers lives.
"I've been going there since 1994," she said. "I never had a hot shower at the beach."
Meyer, observing that the number of out-of-towners using Penfield and Jennings is "stunning," said Fairfield's beaches make it "the envy of all the other towns."
She also said she was concerned the use by nonresidents of the beach facilities increases the town's utility costs, such as the hot water showers.
Recreation Director Gerald Lombardo said there have long been hot showers at the pavilion, but they were not as accessible since users first had to rent a locker. Since the pavilion was rebuilt, the lockers have largely been done away with in the new building and the hot water for the showers is solar-heated.
"There really isn't anything you can do," board member Alexa Mullady said. "How people get there isn't under our purview."
Lombardo said trash cans get full at the beach after staff leaves for the day and families or large groups have dinner there, leaving garbage and pizza boxes next to trash cans. He also said beachgoers also regularly bring alcohol to the beach, a violation of town rules. He said he is working with the Police Department regarding stepped up enforcement of the rules.
Plotkin said the board can discuss increasing rates or limiting the number of parking permits when it does its annual review. Gallucci and Rifkin suggested they check first with the town attorney to see if it would even be legal for the town to limit the number of permits.
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