Over 240 years ago, the British landed off Compo Beach. They headed to Danbury, to burn an important arsenal. Marching north, and again on their return, colonists ambushed them. They never returned.
Nearly two and a half centuries later, Westporters are fighting another Compo battle. This time, the “enemy” is a lot closer than Britain. It’s our next-door neighbors: Weston.
The fuse was lit when — in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding, and pay for improvements — Westport’s board of selectmen approved a proposal to increase season emblem and daily parking fees for all beachgoers next year. Westporters will now pay $50 for a sticker, up from $40. The non-resident price rises from $490 to $775.
Weston residents occupy a middle ground. They’re not Westporters. But for Compo Beach purposes, they’re not non-residents either. So while they paid $250 last year for season-long beach access, this year they’ll be charged $375.
Reaction was swift. Facebook and local blogs rang with protests. England’s decision to tax tea was nothing compared with Westport’s vote to make residents of a town without a beach pay for access in a town that has one.
Westport and Weston have a long history. Weston was actually incorporated first, in 1787. Westport was formed in 1835, taking chunks of land from Weston, Norwalk and Fairfield.
But ever since, Westport has been the top dog. For nearly a century since Staples High School’s founding in 1884, Weston students were educated here. Westonites wanting anything more than a cup of coffee, hammer or stamp have always come here too.
Moving to Westport — or Weston — is a choice. People here get denser zoning, a large high school and library, shopping, restaurants, a dog park and summer entertainment pavilion, three beaches, two marinas, a public golf course, traffic, and much more.
Folks who settle in Weston get more privacy, a smaller high school and library, itty-bitty shopping, a restaurant that keeps opening and closing, no dog park or pavilion, no beaches, no marina, no public golf course, not as much traffic, and — depending on your viewpoint — much more. Or less.
It costs a lot to buy a home in either town. Presumably, every homeowner knows what he or she is getting. And giving up.
Yet the blogosphere blazed with irate Westonites.
The comments fell into a few categories. Some people said they would never shop or dine in Westport again. (“I hope you’re happy that Fairfield and Norwalk will get all my business!”) Some noted that because they would not buy a beach sticker, Westport will actually lose money, and not be able to pay for those beach improvements. (“So there!”) One guy said he was glad he would no longer have to pay for “rocks and dirt.”
Still others accused Westporters of building a figurative wall, to keep out neighbors for no good reason other than — well, no good reason. (“I guess we’re not good enough for you!”)
The online discussion morphed — surprise! — into the realm of taxes. Westporters noted that in addition to beach stickers, our property taxes pay for beach operations. Westonites don’t pay property taxes here, so why shouldn’t they pony up more money to cover operational (and improvement) costs? (The answer to that was basically, “Yeah, but…”)
Some of the comments were truly out there. One woman lamented that her nanny would take the 2-year-old for an hour in the morning. Now, with the price increase, those trips would be too expensive.
Another woman said that the price increase would divide Weston children into haves and have-nots. “Some can meet up with their Westport and Weston friends for play dates, and some can’t. It’s elitist and gross.” Apparently the concept of carpooling has not yet made its way north to Weston.
A few Westonites sucked it up. They said they realized they’ve had a good deal all these years, getting a special price for mooching off our beach. One pointed out there was no logical reason for Weston to get a benefit that Wilton does not.
Another Weston resident said simply, if his fellow residents don’t like the price, they’re free to find another beach.
Which brings up a very interesting point: This summer, Sherwood Island — and most state parks — will be free to all state residents. Though Connecticut is bankrupt, officials believe that adding a $10 charge to all DMV automobile registrations will bring in more revenue than the previous $9 to $13 state park admission fee.
Weston residents are welcome at Sherwood Island. Of course to get there, they’ll have to drive past Westport’s many stores and restaurants.
So I’m betting they’ll stay away. The temptation to stop might prove too great.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.