It’s been a busy past few days in Madison, especially on the beachfront. Here’s an update.
For years, we have employed gate guards at the entrances to all three of the town’s beaches. The gate guards were responsible for verification of residents valid beach passes as well as collecting fees for non-pass holders and out of town visitors. On busy weekends, the entrances to the beaches would often become congested due to incoming beach goers getting into confrontations with the guards, which would cause further delays at the entry points. The Beach & Rec solution was to eliminate the gate guards and allow visitors to enter the beaches and have parking enforcement to verify that a resident’s vehicle displayed a pass, or ticket vehicles that did not display a pass.
While our system set up was delayed, we were able to sell passes in late June and by June 28th we had sold more than 2,100 season passes. During the time before July 1st, prior pass holders and all other tax-payer/residents were granted access with identification. We have sold more than 3,500 season passes and we sold more than $2,300 worth of hourly passes last weekend. The two big problems that I’m hearing from residents are that July 4th was a disaster and the hourly rate for parking at the beaches is too low.
July 4th started out like any other beautiful July 4th day. Residents and out-of-towners got to the Surf Club before it was open and reserved tables on the point. When Hammonasset State Park shut down mid-morning, they reportedly told visitors to go to Madison’s beaches and directed them there. This is not first-hand, but what I’ve been told, and it seems to be true. What I know for a fact is that the EnCon Police (from Hammonasset) directed people to park in private lots across the street from the park. When those were filled, they parked along the connector and even in local neighborhoods. It took the police several hours to get the cars moved.
Meanwhile the parade, which ends at the Surf Club, proceeded as usual. Our park monitors were at the gate to control entry, but this year, as in past years, the park filled to capacity. This happens every year on July 4th. People will walk a long way to get into the beach and our pass is a parking pass, so walk-ins do not pay an admission fee.
On Friday, July 5th and through the weekend, our park monitors patrolled the parking lots and issued tickets. There was plenty of available parking at all town beaches on Friday. Over the weekend, East and West Wharf were at times congested. I’ve been going to both of those beaches for many years, and there have always been times when they reach capacity. This is not a development caused by the new system. When I visited the Surf Club last weekend, parking was always available.
As far as the $3.00 per hour parking rate, it was proposed by Beach & Rec as an equivalent to the $25.00 per day non-resident fee, figuring if someone stayed the eight hours, it would approximate or equal $25.00. I did an analysis today and over the past seven days, the average ticket purchased was for three hours. We want to change this to make it fair to residents. I am in discussions now with the Director and the Chairman of Beach & Rec to adjust rates.
Ideally, we will have a minimum that has to be paid that at least equates to our prior minimums of $25 on weekdays and $40 on Fridays and weekends. We have been in contact with the new beach pass system provider to find out what is technologically feasible, and I am confident we can do that quickly. Some Madison residents have said that rates are too low and we should raise them to keep non-residents out. Please understand as a result of the lawsuit in Greenwich several years ago, we are not allowed to deny access to non-residents. We are allowed to charge a differential, but it must be “reasonable” and in accordance with state law. Beach & Rec set these fees because they deemed them “reasonable”. We are checking nearby towns to see how we compare regarding our fee schedule, and if we can increase these out-of-town fees.
Any change to the system must be proposed by the Beach & Rec Commission and approved by the Board of Selectmen. I am working with Beach & Rec to cut through the red tape to make these adjustments. In the meantime, we will continue to enforce our parking regulations and welcome residents and guests to our beaches.