Among the many boards and committees of town government, the 191 Hillspoint Road Committee is far from the best known.
But when the committee met for the first time in more than a year Tuesday, it tackled a full agenda, including illegal parking at the slice of parkland off Mill Pond, as well as neighborhood complaints -- and whether the committee itself should hand over its custodial role to another town panel.
The Hillspoint Road property, once the longtime site of Allen's Clam House restaurant, is now the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve. A Westport beach sticker is required to park there, and visitors are not supposed to leave the preserve on foot while their vehicles are parked. While Mill Pond covers over 80 acres, the park itself is under an acre in size, according to the Parks and Recreation Department.
As committee members discussed re-defining the committee's mission and its goals, the question was raised of whether it should pass its responsibilities to a new private body or remain a town-sponsored committee.
"The purpose of this group has sort of shifted now from building the park to maintaining it," said Wendy Crowther, committee member.
"I think having the storm after that last meeting made me realize how much we still need this committee," said Chairwoman Sherry Jagerson. "I think this committee is really important and I'm hoping you'll all be willing to keep it going."
Among the other topics discussed was what to do about people who park at the preserve on weekends, but then leave their vehicles unattended, which is a posted requirement. Parks and Recreation Department staff has been given the power to write tickets, but people have been disputing them, claiming they were near their vehicle and just not seen.
"We've had some complaints already," Jagerson said about parking spots being taken by people who leave the preserve. "People came down and tried to park on Saturday ... and there was nobody at the preserve."
"This is really a difficult situation," said Parks & Rec Director Stuart McCarthy.
He said police have suggested erecting mall signs in front of each parking space to make it clear that each slot is for visitors to the nature preserve only, and that vehicles cannot be left there while people go to the nearby store or another beach area.
"A large number of cars" have been ticketed, he said, but people often simply say, "I never saw the sign."
"I think the Police Department would be more likely to be more aggressive, and we have the ability to give out tickets down there, but it becomes a real issue of where are these people? ... It really is a difficult thing to do and I don't really have a good answer for it," he said.
"All they've got to do is tell a story and they can rip the ticket up," he said, "so the best we came up with -- the recommendation is -- to improve the signage."
Jagerson also voiced frustration over a neighboring property to the south of the preserve. "It's their whole attitude to the preserve," she said. "Their attitude is to go in and do as they please."
She said non-native flowers have been planted on the neighboring property, but not removed when requested. She also said neighbors have used park property for personal parking and storing equipment while work is done on their house.
"This isn't a neighborhood preserve," Jagerson said. "This is a whole town of Westport preserve."
"Last time I called her, last year, she was responsive to the issues we had," McCarthy said, so he plans to contact her again.
Jagerson said it was also important for the committee to work in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation Department, which hosted the meeting, and also was attended by Tim Burke, parks superintendent.
"I think it should just where it is in Parks and Rec," she said. "It's a park, so it's under your purview."
McCarthy said the committee members in the past talked about doing "passive fundraising ... Keeping our eyes open for opportunities," including grants. He said a nonprofit called "Friends of Parks & Rec" can help the committee with finance work. "There's a vehicle for having that money moved through a 501-C3 9non-profit), so it makes it a little easier," he said.
"The Parks and Recreation Department now has a roughly bimonthly newsletter that goes out," he said, which may give the Hillspoint group the opportunity to publicize some of its mission.
One idea discussed for next year involves a painting challenge, wherein local artists may be asked to complete a painting in one day of Sherwood Mill Pond or another Westport park. The finished paintings would be then auctioned and a portion of the proceeds would go toward maintaining the preserve at 191 Hillspoint Road.