Out of the Woods: Compo Beach does not need a wave of changes
Published 6:57 am, Saturday, October 11, 2014
I give the Marpe administration in Westport an "A" this year for reaching out to residents to get their views on all kinds of plans for updating and modernizing our beautiful little town. But the crucial question that remains: In the end, will our elected and appointed officials listen?
At last week's public hearing on Compo Beach's future, scores of residents poured into the Town Hall auditorium to express their view on a controversial renovation plan unveiled by the Parks and Recreation Commission. The response was mostly negative, according to longtime town observers who have lived and thrived here for decades. The hearing was packed; standing room only.
It's commendable for First Selectman Jim Marpe to seek changes for the better, but I think we need to learn from our past in our tradition-filled 22.5 acre park, in which an increasing number of seniors take enormous pride.
When Mark Marcus, a former selectmen, got up to speak, he summed up the overall audience reaction in one terse sentence: "Just leave it as is."
Mark was serving as third selectman when I moved here in 1968. He had run as the Democratic candidate against Republican John Kemish, and Kemish prevailed.
When an "old-timer" like Mark Marcus can still make news after residing here for 57 years, you know we have a great deal of loyalty and respect for the past. In fact, it was apparent by just glancing at the crowd last week and listening to the speakers that there is a very strong reverence for maintaining the character and "look" of Westport for many years to come.
Holding to the values and calendar of annual public events in Westport's history has become an essential ingredient of our DNA. It is who we were, who we are, and who we want to continue to be.
The commission's beach plan recommends a number of changes, including reconfiguring the parking area to make more room for a pathway along the edge of the beach.
People of all ages spoke about maintaining the beach parking as is. For example, 14-year-old Theo Koskoff told members of the commission that he did not understand all of the proposals to change the beach. "There's nothing wrong with Compo Beach," he stated flatly.
This newspaper's report on the hearing last week quoted 80-year resident Isabel Blair, who said she and her husband went to the beach three or four times a week for lunch or to have a drink.
"We need to keep the parking the way it is, so people can sit in their cars and watch the sunset," she said. "It's very relaxing."
There are some aspects of Compo Beach that do need updating -- the bathhouses and toilets, for example. But I see no advantage to relocating the entrance or installing a skateboard facility.
Indeed, like many of Westport's treasures, Compo Beach could be upgraded. It has been well-maintained under the leadership of Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy.
Fortunately, the commission's proposal will have to be reviewed by other town boards, including the Planning and Zoning Commission. And, as Charles Haberstroh, Parks and Recreation Commission chairman, pointed out, the whole plan is flexible.
"We can do some, all or none" of the options, he said.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.