Penfield Beach new site of Clam Jam as student bash shucks traditional venue
A Fairfield springtime ritual is being uprooted, but it's not moving far.
Clam Jam, the controversial beach bash hosted annually by Fairfield University students at Lantern Point, will be held this year at the town's Penfield Beach, under the official auspices of the college itself.
The Parks and Recreation Commission last month issued a permit granting the university use of the beach on Saturday, April 25, and the state has issued a temporary liquor permit for the student party.
"We have been meeting with the students that live at the beach all year long to discuss an alternative to the traditional Clam Jam," Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy said. "It's been a discussion item for at least the last two years and it was this particular group of students that was able to convince other residents at the beach that this was the year we were going to attempt a change in the culture."
Fairfield University allows only seniors to live off campus in the beach neighborhood, and Clam Jam has long been a thorn in the side of year-round residents. Years ago, the alcohol-fueled, day-long party would draw thousands to Lantern Point, a beachfront enclave of private homes at the intersection of Reef and Fairfield Beach roads. The raucous crowd would often spill onto the beach and the streets, prompting numerous complaints from neighbors and resulting in student arrests for disorderly conduct and under-age drinking.
Angry year-round beach residents eventually secured a court injunction that limits the number of party goers allowed at Lantern Point at one time, which along with a large police presence deployed around the event, have produced greater orderliness and fewer complaints in recent years. As an extra measure to ensure crowd control, the Lantern Point Homeowners Association has hired security personnel in an attempt to make sure only those students with the proper bracelets were allowed inside.
"The Fairfield Beach Road Association supports the decision of the Fairfield Parks and Recreation Department in approving the Fairfield University request to permit the spring gathering, known as Clam Jam, at Penfield Beach," said Paige Herman, the neighborhood association president. "With the support of the university and the guidelines set forth and put in place by the Fairfield Police Department, the FBRA remains hopeful that a safer event for students and the beach neighborhood will prevail."
According to Lyddy, there will be no parking at the beach during Clam Jam, and the university will run a continuous shuttle bus loop to the site from the campus. Students must have a ticket and the number of tickets will be limited to 1,200. There will be a separate "beer garden" for students 21 years old and over.
"There will be music, beach games, food and alcohol," Lyddy said.
The beach, meanwhile, will be closed to the general public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Lyddy said security details are being arranged, with the university required to hire a private security firm as well as to pay local police officers.
"We do have assurances from the student population that this is Clam Jam and there will be no secondary event," Lyddy said when asked about related parties in the neighborhood.
Moving the party off Lantern Point, however, shifts it closer to other homes on Fairfield Beach Road.
"That said, we are hopeful that the proposed change in venue and increase control measures will provide for a safer event that has significantly less impact on our neighbourhood."
In his letter to the Parks and Recreation Commission, Thomas Pellegrino, the university's vice president for student affairs, said, "This proposal seeks to address and resolve several challenges associated with this event, including most significantly, moving the event from a private residential neighborhood to a public property designed to hold events."
By moving Clam Jam, Pellegrino's letter states, and following the plan developed for controling the party, "We believe the event will strike the right balance of a fun and memorable event for students, while offering a managed event that is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and which also mitigates the many health and safety concerns that are shared by the Police Department, the neighbors and the university."
Tickets will be free to Fairfield University seniors with a valid Fairfield University ID, who will be able to register one additional guest. The registered guest must also provide a valid state ID or driver's license.
Undergraduates at the college can purchase tickets for themselves for $20, and may purchase a guest ticket for $50. No tickets will be sold at the door, and private security will monitor the party entrance. Students and guests must produce a ticket and a valid state or Fairfield U. ID to enter and all personal belongings will be searched. No outside food or drink will be allowed into the beach.
Lyddy said this year, at least, residents and party goers can expect the usual large police presence along Fairfield Beach Road, and there will be DUI checkpoints set up throughout the day in the neighborhood.
"We're very hopeful this can be a controlled event, as opposed to an uncontrolled event at Lantern Point," Lyddy said.
According to a draft of the Parks and Recreation Commission's February minutes, Storm Miller, a student representative from the senior class, said the students do not want "last year's Clam Jam," which he described as "dangerous." He told the board that the students he's spoken with favor of the new plan to stage party at Penfield Beach.
Lyddy had hoped to reserve Jennings Beach for Clam Jam, because it would move the party even farther away from nearby homes, but its use has already been reserved that weekend for the annual McKinley School carnival.