Last stand? Renegade beach concession in Westport hot water
Updated 7:12 am, Tuesday, October 22, 2013
A new storm may be brewing over the former Southport Beach concession stand, swamped by controversy -- and in search of a home -- since it was dislodged from its beachfront site by Superstorm Sandy's fury last October.
Hunter King, the last concession holder at the small, weathered stand that was a fixture on Southport Beach for six decades, wants to return the damaged building there.
Right now, the stand has been moved to Burying Hill Beach in Westport, where its unapproved arrival has touched off controversy in that town.
Back in Fairfield, King's intention to haul the building back to Southport is getting a far-from-warm reception.
"It's definitely won't be going back. We won't be putting a building there," Gerald Lombardo, Fairfield's parks and recreation director, said bluntly Friday.
He said the town has opted to only have one mobile vendor at that beach from now on.
"We are putting specs together right now," he said, adding King ran a mobile concession at Southport Beach last summer. He added that he can submit a request to do it again. But Lombardo added, "there will be no building."
Nevertheless, King is hoping to bring the stand back to its original site.
First, he envisions moving it from Burying Hill Beach, where it's currently located, to a friend's house in Southport. "That will happen in a week or so," he said. "We have to cut the roof down first to meet state regulations for transportation."
In an Oct. 11 Facebook post, King wrote that Westport wants to demolish the building, "if we do not move it today."
"Come show some support at Bury (sic) Hill beach as we prepare our beloved beach shack for the road ahead," he wrote.
"We are still looking for a permanent home!," he added. "Help us anyway ...you can so that we can return to Southport beach! We are waiting to hear from the Director of Parks and Rec in Fairfield. He wants to define the words "Mobile"! Is Kings Kitchen Mobile now? Ask Fairfield Parks and Rec if we can return for next season! We need to know now and restore order to Southport Beach!"
Prior to Burying Hill Beach, the stand was situated on the nearby front lawn of a friend's house on Beachside Avenue in Westport. But, King said, "It had to be moved because they were having a wedding there."
That site was the initial refuge for the stand after Fairfield officials threatened to demolish it if King did not move it from Southport Beach.
In the meantime, King had hoped to possibly move the building to Sherwood Island State Park, but that fell through. "We did ask them, and they said `no,' " he said of state officials.
"It's a real mess," he said of the beach stand's star-crossed search for a home.
Westport Police Capt. Sam Arciola said his department has been in contact with King since the shack turned up on Beachside Avenue. He called the stand "a hazard" in its current location at Burying Hill Beach.
"He had no permission to leave it there -- but now it's dumped on the town," he said. "How he got it there, we don't know."
Arciola said the town has been trying to come up with some solutions.
"It seems this individual is taking advantage of the good nature of our trying to resolve this matter," he said of King.
King said that, his brothers and father -- as a business known as Kings Kitchen LLP -- entered into a contract with the town of Fairfield in May 2012 to manage the food service concession at Southport Beach. Things were going great, he said, until the building was damaged during Superstorm Sandy, which swept the structure across Pequot Avenue and caused local officials to condemn it. Shortly before the deadline for demolition, King, who had purchased the building, moved it on a flatbed trailer to the friend's Beachside Avenue yard.
That move resulted in a "notice of violation" issued by Westport zoning officials against the homeowner, said Laurence Bradley, that town's zoning director.
He said a certain amount of time is usually given for the violator to address such citations. In this case, since the structure was moved from the yard, it's no longer an issue, he said, adding no fines were levied by the town against the property owner as a result of the violation.
Bradley said his department is aware it had been moved to Burying Hill Beach, which is town property.