Avoiding another wave of controversy, parks panel OKs new Compo Beach walkway
Updated 7:22 am, Friday, December 18, 2015
In the wake of controversy that engulfed plans to reconfigure parking at Compo Beach when a master plan was adopted earlier this year, the Parks and Recreation Commission has approved a new pedestrian walkway designed to walk the line between both sides of the argument.
The 5-foot-wide concrete path is planed to run from the beach’s pavilion to the cannons. It will be built within the footprint of the existing parking area along the east beach, using the area that is now the site of vertical parking spaces.
Because the parking lot is 54-feet wide at its narrowest point, Public Works Director Steve Edwards said there is room to move those vertical parking spaces back eight feet from the beach without losing any of those slots, impinging on the beach itself, or eliminating the 22 spaces of horizontal parking along the western side of the parking area.
“All I’m doing is moving the cars back eight feet,” he said at the commission’s Wednesday meeting. “The width here right now is oversized,” he said, with 22 to 24 feet of space between the vertical and horizontal parking areas. “I’ll have enough room” to add the pedestrian path.
In a 2-1 vote, the commission approved a $97,000 appropriation for the project, along with $88,500 to refurbish and enlarge the two basketball courts to the west of the beach entrance.
Commissioner Stephen Axthelm, who cast the dissenting vote, expressed disappointment that he hadn’t seen the path plan before the vote. He proposed eliminating — with the aim of relocating — the 22 horizontal spaces in order to create a buffer between the pedestrian path and the parking lot.
“I think we may be missing an opportunity,” he said, noting that once the parking lot is changed and repaved it would be many years before the issue could be revisited.
“I find it hard to believe we couldn’t recapture 22 spaces somewhere else on the property … and if we don’t look at this at this time we’ll never be able to look at it again,” he said.
Axthelm, who praised another new walkway that was created along the marina, suggested it could be a similar buffer of greenery about 5-feet wide. Other commissioners noted, however, that greenery would require maintenance and might not even be possible because of beachside soil conditions.
“There is a certain appeal to minimalism down at the beach,” commission Chairman Charles Haberstroh added.
“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here,” said Carol Buffington. “This is sand and people go barefoot, so leave it. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Michael Calise, who was among those who strongly opposed to the earlier master plan proposal to reconfigure the parking area, gave his support to the pathway plan but questioned how many people would use it.
“To think that creating a sidewalk between the cannons and the pavilion is going to automatically move everybody off the blacktop onto the sidewalk is unrealistic,” he said. “People transverse that whole area to accommodate how they feel about the beach.”
Haberstroh said, however, it would might be particularly appealing to beachgoers pushing baby strollers who could avoid having to cross the area behind the parked cars.
As part of what was referred to as Phase One of the Compo Beach improvement project, the two basketball courts will be brought up to regulation size and refurbished. Edwards said the work, which will include new lighting, will be done town workers.
“We believe we could save the money and DPW could handle the projects,” he said.
“We have been getting together and looking for things we can do where there was consensus,” she said, beginning with the two proposals before the commission Wednesday.
Work on both projects will likely begin in April, Edwards said.