Selectmen curb dog presence on Westport's parks and fields

Golfers play a round at Longshore Golf Course in Westport, Conn., on Tuesday June 23, 2020.

Golfers play a round at Longshore Golf Course in Westport, Conn., on Tuesday June 23, 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Hoping to make it clear that dogs aren’t allowed on many town properties for health and safety reasons, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved updated regulations from the Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday.

Jennifer Fava, the parks and recreation director, explained that while many of these rules have already been in place for some time, clarifications needed to be made, including a reminder that animals aren’t allowed on athletic fields.

“This is something that we felt was important,” she said, noting service dogs are exempted per federal regulations.

“What we find is the dogs are urinating and defecating on the fields where people are playing,” she said. “A lot of times people close the gates and let their dogs run off leash and it turns into a bit of a minefield out on the field.”

She said animals aren’t allowed on the town’s fields or playgrounds for health and safety reasons. People can still be on the sidelines of a game with their dogs, but must keep them off the fields at all times.

“We’ve had comments and experiences where there have been children on the playgrounds and people have let their dogs on,” Fava said.

She noted dogs are allowed at Longshore Club Park, but are prohibited from being on the golf course.

The Parks and Rec Commission also revised what is required to show residency, in particular noting that simply being registered to vote in Westport will no longer be an acceptable item of proof.

“Being a Westport registered voter does not necessarily mean that you’re a Westport resident,” Fava said, noting they are putting their residency requirements more in line with those used by the Board of Education.

Toward the point of demonstrating residency, the selectmen tabled the commission’s request to increase the entitling fee from $475 to $775, with Selectman Melissa Kane questioning its purpose.

Fava explained the fee is there to allow summer tenants, business owners and those who own commercial property in town to get amenities — such as beach stickers — at the same rate as residents.

“We’re finding some people taking advantage of it,” she said, omitting details but indicating there has been abuse with the lower fee.

She said the current structure allows people to buy two beach emblem and two golf passes under the entitlement fee and still pay less than a nonresident.

“I think there was some understanding that people are in some way trying to game the system, I think is what we’re finding,” she said, adding the change was to augment equity.

But Kane called the logic “a little far-fetched,” questioning that people were renting a place in two for 30 days, just to save $300 on the town fees.

“They were,” confirmed Rick Giunta, the parks and recreation’s deputy director. “It was becoming more prevalent than not.”

Kane challenged how much the price would increase for people who are coming in with actual leases or doing business in town.

“I can see the reason to want to have full parity for any non-resident of Westport. ... At the same time I want to make sure that people who are renting homes in Westport, and are adding to our economy in that way, feel that they’re getting value,” she said. “I wouldn’t want them paying more.”

The selectmen bounced it back to the commission to review again, but did approve recommended increases to boat slip fees starting in 2022.

While there will be no increase in slip sizes below 21 feet, the four categories for larger boat will go up. This includes $1,580 for slips of 22 to 26 feet, $1,659 for slips of 26 to 27 feet, $2,299 for slips 28 to 34 feet, and $3,099 for slips 35 to 40 feet.

The current fees are $770 for a slip thats 12 to 18 feet, $930 for a slip that’s 19 to 21 feet, $1,505 for a slip that’s 22 to 26 feet, $1,580 for a slip thats 26 to 27 feet, $2,090 for slips 28 to 3 feet and $2,695 for a slip that’s 35 to 40 feet.

“Basically what we’re looking at is to bring those more in line with surrounding areas,” Fava said, in particular public marinas.

Giunta said there are more than 1,000 people on the waiting list to get boat slips in town. While it has traditionally been a long wait, he said the number jumped last year during the pandemic.

“With COVID it seemed that everyone wanted to get into boating,” he said.

According to the parks and rec website, there is a one- to two-year wait for boat slips of 12 to 18 feet and a three- to five-year wait for slips 19 to 21 feet. Bigger sizes, however, range from eight to 11 years.

“And I would say that our marinas far exceed any of the other local marinas in what we offer,” Giunta said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe supported the new fees.

“Full disclosure, I co-own a 26-foot boat and I feel privileged to pay whatever fee,” he said.