Editor's Note: Confusion about beach access abounds
By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge residents will get their chance to weigh in on a number of contentious public beach access issues at a much-anticipated workshop scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. on May 6 in the Town Hall.
“The time is here,” said Mayor Geoffrey Pugh at the Town Commission’s April 7 meeting. “Everyone who has an opinion about it can show up, we can hear their ideas and go from there.”
The commission had decided months ago to postpone setting a date for the workshop until after the March elections and the seating of two new commissioners, James Bonfiglio and Richard Lucibella. The commission also discarded a proposal to kick the beach access debate down to the town’s Planning and Zoning board for guidance.
Vice Mayor Lynn Allison had led the opposition to that idea, arguing that it was the Town Commission’s responsibility to handle the matter, after first soliciting the input of residents at the workshop.
“We need to be aware of what your suggestions are,” Allison said of the importance of a workshop to get residents’ comments, “so we can combine them with what we think as well.”
How to manage public beach access has been a divisive issue in the town for the last six months, growing out of a dispute over what signs on the beachfront walkways should say.
Property owners along the beach complain that the town should not advertise beaches as public because it encourages people to come to places that have no facilities and no lifeguards. The property owners say there are too many out-of-town beachgoers who wonder onto private backyards, litter and misbehave.
Unlike several neighboring coastal towns, Ocean Ridge has no ordinance prohibiting alcohol consumption on the beach. Some oceanfront residents think it should.
On the other side of the access issue are residents who believe that the town makes itself vulnerable to lawsuits if it does not use signage that makes it clear the beaches are open to the public. These residents argue that public beaches should be exactly what the name implies, and that beachfront property owners are acting out of self-interest by exaggerating the cases of misbehaving out-of-towners.
Caught in the middle is the town’s Police Department. Chief Chris Yannuzzi has increased his officers’ beach patrols at the request of town officials and says that has decreased the number of patrols elsewhere — a development that has stirred up more controversy recently.
An early April break-in at a home on Harbour Drive South has led some residents to conclude that police are spending too much time on the beaches and not enough time patrolling the neighborhood streets.
Yannuzzi has told commissioners the increased beach presence hasn’t uncovered any serious criminal activity and little in the way of inappropriate behavior.
Commissioners hope to learn enough at the May workshop to come to a consensus on a new beach access strategy later this year that will satisfy all sides of the debate.
In other business:
The commission unanimously approved Pugh for another term as mayor and Allison for another as vice mayor. Pugh has served on the commission since 2003 and is beginning his second year as mayor.
“I love this town. I think it’s paradise between a lot of hustle and bustle,” Pugh said. “I think we have a gem here and that we can keep it as a beautiful safe haven that we can all love and cherish.”