Panel votes to raise fees, limit access for nonresidents at Compo Beach

WESTPORT — Compo Beach may be less crowded next summer, now that the Parks and Recreation Commission has voted to increase prices roughly 50 percent and decrease seasonal beach permits for non-Westporters.

The move to limit access to the beach will head to the Board of Selectmen for approval in the new year.

The commission unanimously voted on the changes as part of a series of beach policy modifications following an onslaught of resident anger about beach conditions last summer. Resident Judy Holod has followed the commission’s new policies closely and spoke several times at what was otherwise a small and noncontentious meeting.

“This is how this whole thing started — that our beach is not our beach anymore. We’re waiting to get in. it’s crowded once we’re there. It’s just a horrible situation,” Holod said. She said it was unfair to raise residents’ passes by the same percentage, roughly 50 percent, as the fee increases for out-of-towners.

Next season, resident parking emblems will increase from $40 to $60, while nonresident emblems will increase from $490 to $750. The parks department sells 600 seasonal beach emblems to nonresidents, but will decrease that number to 350 for the upcoming season.

“There are two goals here,” commission Chairman Charles Haberstroh said. “One is to start to alleviate the overcrowding at the beach reported to us and the other is to remain revenue neutral.”

Haberstroh and Parks and Recreation Department Director Jennifer Fava said beach revenues will need to increase by $200,000 in the upcoming season due to cuts in the parks budget, amenity improvements, and a planned increase in police presence at the beach.

Last time Compo increased its daily parking fees for anyone without an emblem — from $35 to $50 five years ago, Haberstroh said the department saw a 40 percent decrease in beach users. Daily fees will go up this summer from $50 to $65.

Commissioners acknowledged there may be a margin of error in their calculations but said the increased fees and decreased emblems should cover the $200,000 in additional costs for beach maintenance this year and simultaneoulsy accomplish residents demands for less beachgoers.

More Information

Season beach pass prices for out of towners

Norwalk $225

Fairfield $175

Westport $750**

** Proposed fee not yet approved.

In comparison, Fairfield charges $20 and $50 for weekday and weekend beach passes, respectively, for access to all beaches. The town charges $175 for a season parking pass to Jennings and Penfield beaches for any vehicle that does not pay tax in the town of Fairfield. Norwalk charges $225 for nonresident beach season parking passes. Sherwood island charges $22 for nonresidents on weekdays and $15 for nonresidents on weedays.

District seven Representative Town Meeting member Lauren Karpf agreed with the commission’s new policies. “Raising the prices and lowering the passes is a good thing. We want to keep Westport attractive to people who are interested in moving here, not simply paying $200 and getting seasonal access,” Karp said.

Resident Michael Calise disagreed with a decrease in seasonal emblems for non-Westporters, saying the majority of these emblem holders are people who grew up in or have lived in Westport, but “moved out because they can no longer afford the housing or couldn’t find a smaller home.” Calise said these people moved to neighboring Norwalk, Wilton or Fairfield.

Fava confirmed residents of neighboring towns buy the majority of out of town emblems with 140 sold to people in Norwalk and 160 to people in Wilton.

“To penalize those people is not appropriate. I think you should be looking at more of these daily passes. The people who come from parts unknown,” Calise said.

Compo Road South resident Tom Hood called the fee increases “unconscionable.” “I pay property taxes on the cars and I think I’ve already paid for the beach,” Hood said.

The commission’s approved recommendations for increased fees and decreased emblems for non-residents will go before the Board of Selectman for final approval on Jan. 10.

svaughan@hearst; @SophieCVaughan1